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What Next in Iraq

September 7, 2014

A few days ago, there was an insightful cartoon in one of the British newspaper sites.  It showed several NATO leaders gathered around a wheel of fortune, with Obama about to give it a spin.  Many different options for NATO in Iraq and neighboring countries were displayed on segments of the wheel.  Maybe that is how they will decide what to do next.

The situation is very complex, with no obviously good choices.  In Iraq, ISIS has provoked a response from the west.  They got the response that they expected.  This has all happened before, except that it was al-Qaeda last time.  The US and the rest of the western countries now have another evil enemy.  The US is attacking ISIS from the air, in support of the Kurdish military.  Some countries in Europe are supplying weapons to the Kurds, even though some Kurdish groups were designated as terrorists not so long ago.  Even Canada is playing a part, transporting weapons by air.  The Kurds are defending their own territory, and doing it very well.  They want their own separate country, including part of Iraq.  They also have oil on their territory, something that’s certainly attractive to western countries.  After this war is over, they will have a great deal of bargaining power with the west.  They may well get their own country.  The US, though, wants an inclusive government in Iraq, one that will govern the entire country fairly.  The US is also supporting shia groups in Iraq as they move against ISIS from the south.  Much depends on how effective their counterattack will turn out to be.

The US is in a delicate position in Syria.  They had wanted al-Assad’s government to step down.  They had supported the sunni rebels in Syria, as long as they were moderate groups.  Now these groups have been replaced by ISIS.  As well, the Syrian government has made itself more legitimate by accepting a Russian proposal to dispose of their chemical weapons.  The US, of course, opposes ISIS.  How do they attack ISIS in Syria without taking the side of the al-Assad government?

Iran supports the shia groups in Iraq.  Members of shia Islam are in the majority in Iraq.  Iran has also been aiding in the fight against ISIS, seeing them as a threat to their own country as well.  Iran has even offered to cooperate with the US military in this operation.  Of course, Iran is a traditional enemy of the US.  Iran is also seeking to rehabilitate their image.  What’s going to happen next?

Turkey is also supporting the Kurds against the threat from ISIS, even though Turkey has previously fought against the Kurds and their desire to form their own country.  Turkey, of course, wants to be seen as a western country.  Is their support for the Kurds just a token, or is it the real thing?

Of course the situation in Iraq will change, and will do it in ways that few people expect.  People are more vigorous in defending their land than it defending their ideology.  Sunni and shia groups may not always be on opposite sides.  After all, the two have lived side by side as good neighbors for many years.  Finally, the public messages coming from the leaders of various countries may be completely different from the private actions of those countries.  Expects surprises and shifting alliances.

Western countries have already allied themselves with various groups in Iraq, in order to oppose ISIS.  What will they do about Syria?  Will they tell us that al-Assad is a good guy after all?  The west and Iran have a common enemy now too.  Will they work together, at least behind the scenes?  I have great doubts about that one, but who knows.  Spin the wheel, Obama.


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One Comment
  1. As pointed out in the article “WWII Groundhog Day …” –, the key is decisive action now!

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