Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Iraq Retakes Washington Centre-Stage, Briefly

A recent visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki highlighted the growing U.S. concern about al-Qaeda activity in Iraq, but some lawmakers are skeptical that U.S. assistance can mitigate the violence, blaming it in part on Maliki's authoritarian governance.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

Ten and a half years after invading U.S. troops ousted President Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, Iraq has re-emerged in Washington, if only briefly, as a major foreign policy agenda item.

The occasion was the visit of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose main purpose was to secure greater U.S. military and security assistance just two years after the last U.S. troops and advisers left Iraq due to his government’s refusal to grant them immunity from Iraqi law.

With sectarian violence now claiming over 1,000 lives a month – and approaching the levels that prevailed in 2007-08 when the country tottered on the edge of all-out civil war – Maliki called in particular for the delivery of powerful weapons systems, notably helicopter gunships, to fight an increasingly lethal Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency that has been re-energised in important part by the raging civil war in Syria next door.

Members of his delegation hinted that Baghdad might also welcome the return of some U.S. military personnel as advisers, as well as drones to patrol Iraqi skies, although they were careful not to press the issue publicly, apparently for fear of a political backlash back home six months before the next scheduled elections in which Maliki is expected to run for a third term.

“We were partners and we shed blood together while fighting terrorists,” he told his audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) in reference to nine-year-old U.S.-led effort to curb mainly Sunni resistance to Washington’s occupation and Shia-led governments.

“We will defeat the terrorists by our local efforts and our partnership with the United States,” he added, calling for “a global war against terror.”

While the administration of President Barack Obama, with whom Maliki held a low-key White House meeting, dropped such rhetoric long ago, senior officials said they were receptive to his requests.

“The Iraqis have asked for weapons systems from us. …[W]e support those requests, and we’re working with the Congress through those as appropriate,” said a senior official after a key meeting between Maliki and Vice President Joe Biden, who has effectively headed the administration’s Iraq portfolio since 2009 when Washington began its withdrawal from the country.

But the officials stressed that the Iraqi president’s own sectarian leanings and authoritarian leadership style also bore major responsibility for the growing threat posed by radical Sunni Islamists, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has steadily consolidated its position in eastern Syria along the Iraqi border.

Indeed, the major message conveyed to the Iraqi leader by the both the administration and Congress, key members of which Maliki also met with, is that military power and counter-terrorist measures, even with enhanced U.S. cooperation, will not by themselves be sufficient to defeat the challenges facing Baghdad.

“If Prime Minister Maliki continues to marginalize the Kurds, alienate many Shia, and treat large numbers of Sunnis as terrorists, no amount of security assistance will be able to bring stability and security to Iraq,” argued a letter to Obama signed by a bipartisan group of six of the Senate’s most influential members as Maliki arrived.

It accused Maliki of “too often pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda. …It is essential that you urge Prime Minister Maliki to adopt a strategy to address Iraq’s serious problems of governance,” they wrote.

And while lawmakers, even after meeting with Maliki, continued to suggest that they would condition increased military assistance and sales on Maliki’s pursuit of a more conciliatory policy toward Sunnis and Kurds, official Washington appears genuinely concerned about the resurrection of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and the downward spiral of violence in Iraq and its broader implications.

Indeed, “Countering Al-Qaida Affiliated Groups” comprised the central section of a three-page “Joint Statement” approved by Obama and Maliki at their White House meeting.

“Both sides emphasized – on an urgent basis – the need for additional equipment for Iraqi forces to conduct ongoing operations in remote areas where terrorist camps are located,” it said in an apparent referring to the Apache helicopters and other aircraft which Baghdad hopes to deploy in the predominantly Sunni Al-Anbar province which runs along much of Iraq’s border with Syria.

The same section praised Maliki’s public strategy to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to isolate ISIS and related groups, notably by renewing efforts to enlist and empower local tribal militias, such as the so-called “Sons of Iraq,” that fought with U.S. forces during their much-celebrated “surge” of troops in 2007-08.

Whether Maliki, who halted payments to those militias as U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, will now follow through remains a point of major uncertainty that was not dispelled in his meeting with senior senators on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The committee chair, Robert Menendez, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Maliki’s presentation about Iraq’s internal challenges and it made him “even more concerned” about providing Baghdad with attack helicopters for fear they could be used indiscriminately against suspected Sunni targets and thus drive more of the Sunni population into ISIS’ arms.

For their part, administration officials suggested that enhanced intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq could ease such concerns and stressed that ISIS had introduced heavy machine guns that had already brought down a number of Baghdad’s existing helicopter fleet.

They also insisted that Maliki had taken some important steps toward reconciliation recently, such as meeting the newly elected governor of Anbar and easing tensions between the central government and Kurdistan.

“I emphasised …that we were encouraged by the work that Prime Minister Maliki has done in the past to ensure that all people inside of Iraq – Sunni, Shia and Kurd – fell that they have a voice in their government,” Obama said in a brief joint appearance after their meeting. He added that next year’s election will be an “important expression” of that aspiration.

In any event, what with the sectarian civil war next door in Syria, the importance of reversing the current trajectory of sectarian violence and reducing ISIS’ presence in Iraq is widely recognised.

“If left unchecked, we could find ourselves in a regional sectarian struggle that could last a decade,” Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), told the Wall Street Journal during Maliki’s visit.

Of particular concern is the possible re-activation – possibly with Maliki’s blessing — of Shia militias to counter ISIS and similar groups. Such a development, according to Austin, would not only move the country closer to civil war, but also strengthen Iran’s already-significant influence in Iraq.

Indeed, Tehran’s influence in Iraq is already a source of major discontent with Maliki in Washington, particularly in Congress where the Israel lobby, which tends to see Iran as its strategic enemy in the region, exerts its greatest influence.

In their letter, the six senators urged Obama “to make clear to …Maliki that the extent of Iran’s malign influence in the Iraqi government is a serious problem in our bilateral relationship, especially for the Congress.” ‘

They pointed in particular to reports that Tehran uses Iraqi airspace to transport military supplies to Syria and Iraqi forces as proxies to carry out attacks against camps of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iraq-based Iranian rebel group that is supposed to be under Baghdad’s protection.

U.S. officials said Baghdad has shown increasing vigilance regarding Iran’s air transport traffic. Washington is also selling F-16 warplanes and plans to sell a major air-defence system to Baghdad.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The Foreign Policy Initiative, founded in 2009 by a host of neoconservative figures, was a leading advocate for a militaristic and Israel-centric U.S. foreign policies.


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and close ties to prominent neoconservatives.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a close confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince is notorious for his efforts to expand the use of private military contractors in conflict zones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mark Dubowitz, an oft-quoted Iran hawk, is the executive director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The time has come for a new set of partnerships to be contemplated between the United States and Middle East states – including Iran – and between regimes and their peoples, based on a bold and inclusive social contract.


Print Friendly

Erik Prince is back. He’s not only pitching colonial capitalism in DC. He’s huckstering ex-SF-led armies of sepoys to wrest Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and perhaps, if he is ever able to influence likeminded hawks in the Trump administration, even Iran back from the infidels.


Print Friendly

Encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, neoconservatives appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan.


Print Friendly

When asked about “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs,” 22 percent of those surveyed as part of a recent Pew Research Center global poll expressed confidence in Donald Trump and 74 percent expressed no confidence.


Print Friendly

A much-awaited new State Department volume covering the period 1951 to 1954 does not reveal much new about the actual overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq but it does provide a vast amount of information on US involvement in Iran.


Print Friendly

As debate continues around the Trump administration’s arms sales and defense spending, am new book suggests several ways to improve security and reduce corruption, for instance by increasing transparency on defense strategies, including “how expenditures on systems and programs align with the threats to national security.”


Print Friendly

Lobelog We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single…


RightWeb
share