The U.S. Choice on Iraq: Help Al Qaeda or Ally with Iran
The choice about whether or not the United States should get involved with Iraq is a valid question, and part of answering that is to examine what is at the heart of this current unrest in Iraq. Is it another manifestation of the Shia/Sunni conflict more than a millennium old? Is it because the power vacuum left by the United States (and Saddam Hussein, for that matter) naturally filled in with the worst of each side? Did the sectarian actions of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leave the Sunnis no choice but to take action?
In a detailed series of reports for the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins has detailed how the al-Maliki government has responded to dissent in their country, specifically from Sunni opposition to his Shiite-led government, with aggression.
For example, in the now-ISIS controlled city of Ramadi back in December of 2013 a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament spoke at a rally featuring a group who identified as Al Qaeda, but was most likely comprised of folks now part of ISIS. The al-Maliki government raided the parliament member’s home, killing six people and taking him away in chains.
At the time, ISIS was associated with Al Qaeda but has since been denounced by the terrorist group for not leaving Syria to other Al Qaeda commanders and focusing instead on Iraq as ordered. However, with an estimated wealth in the billions, ISIS is not suffering for lack of Al Qaeda’s endorsement.
In fact, on Al Jazeera America’s “The Inside Story,” a national security research fellow at Harvard Dr. Nussaibah Younis blamed the al-Malaki government’s sectarian actions for why moderate Sunnis are willing to submit to a group like ISIS. She says that it is up to the U.S. to offer Sunnis a viable alternative to ISIS, even if that means working with Iran.
Iran has expressed its willingness to “work with” the U.S. However, If ISIS takes Baghdad and the al-Maliki government – no matter how flawed it may be – falls, the results would be disastrous for the region. Still, it puts the U.S. in a tough position: back Iran or side with the terrorists.
The only way to avoid that would be to create a broad coalition of nations neighboring Iraq who both have an investment in keeping the region from actively burning. More “cooks” to the eventual stew that will be Iraq when this is over will ultimately make things more difficult for us, diplomatically speaking, but it could also prevent Iran from exercising undue influence in Iraq.
Photo by US Army (2006) via Wikicommons