June 11, 2015 | Quote

Obama’s New Plan to Save Iraq: Tear It Apart

President Obama’s decision to send another 450 troops to Iraq is the latest example of a strategy mired in double paradox. The U.S. wants to save a unified Iraq—by strengthening the ethnic and religious militias that could tear the country apart. And to pull it off, Washington is counting on the cooperation of groups divided by a chasm of suspicion.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Obama administration said the additional American troops are supposed to help more Sunnis come forward and eventually receive U.S. military training. The goal is for those Sunnis to align with the largely Shiite government in Baghdad to drive out the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Sunni-dominated terror army that controls the region where they live.

But there’s a major catch. Several, actually. For these Sunni fighters, fighting ISIS not only means going to war against their fellow Sunnis. It also means teaming up with the central government in Baghdad—a government dominated by their Shiite rivals, with a long history of mistreating Sunnis.

Shiite militias, backed by Iran, helped Iraqi military forces reclaim the central city of Tikrit this year. That prompted the U.S. to agree to provide air support to militiamen—even though Shiite forces staged something of an ethnic cleansing in Tikrit after the fight was done. The U.S. simply insisted that the militiamen should stay under Iraqi military control during operations to reclaim territory from ISIS.

The 450 American troops, at the longtime urging of the Sunni Iraqi leaders, will now help create a Sunni equivalent militia force that it has so far lacked.

That the U.S. is leaning more on paramilitary forces only confirms the failure of both the central government and its forces to protect Iraq, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“We are increasingly living in a world where threats come at a sub-state level. The reason why sub-state threats are able to reach strategic levels is because the state that is nominally supposed to control a territory does not,” he said.


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“It may be locking the U.S. into engaging at the sub-state level,” he continued. The American war plan may center around strengthening Baghdad, but American actions may be contributing to forces that weaken the government there.