Post #27 – The Great Sucking Sound in Iraq

Late last year ominous reports from Iraq indicated that government forces were gradually losing the initiative in the northern and western parts of the country against an al-Qaeda affiliate know as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  The level of violence was the highest in five years, and ISIS attacks were increasingly audacious.  Iraq’s government was said to be seeking a major new infusion of US weapons, including drones.  The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki got most of the weapons it sought, including air-to-ground missiles.  But Maliki did not make a formal request for the drones. Now he has requested not only drones but manned US air strikes as the ISIS forces have seized key cities and sent Iraq’s security forces fleeing, abandoning their weapons in the process.

The “great sucking sound” I refer to is the prospect that the deteriorating security situation in both Iraq and Syria will create political pressure in the US to “do something” to avert catastrophic defeat.  The Obama administration already is being urged, for example by Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria, to substantially increase weapons shipments to anti-Assad insurgents.  Now, Iraq is formally requesting drones, facing Obama with the choice of letting matters take their course or “losing” Iraq while also “losing” in Syria.

In my view, Obama must continue to resist being sucked—or suckered—into a larger commitment in either Iraq or Syria.  More weapons will not determine the outcome; what they will do is put the US in the all-too-familiar position of being tied to a government and army (in Iraq) or an insurgency (in Syria) that has proven to be disunited, corrupt, and incompetent.  (It was later reported that 4 of Iraq’s 14 divisions had collapsed.) And down the line, when the losses on “our” side mount with no good options in sight, Obama will be faced with pressure to further upgrade weapons deliveries, send many more advisers (to avoid providing “boots on the ground”), and authorize bombing missions.

In pessimistic circumstances such as Washington now faces, the predictable move by US partners is to promise reforms in return for a deeper US commitment.  The Maliki government will promise to bring more Sunnis into the government, operate more democratically, and reorganize the army so as to fight more effectively.  The proper response to such promises is to remind our Iraqi partners that we’ve heard all this before, and that there’s no reason to think such reforms will actually be carried out.  What the US must deal with in Iraq is an undemocratic regime that is steadily losing ground to an even more undemocratic, in fact ruthless, insurgent group.

The US got sucked into Iraq’s problematic politics after 9-11 under false circumstances.  Obama has gradually disengaged from Iraq, leaving behind a country awash in weapons and deeply divided along sectarian and other lines.  If the ISIS offensive is not stopped, Iraq will be severed in thirds, with the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds each controlling a part of the country. For the US to reverse course to save a regime that cannot save itself would be unconscionable.  The US has already sacrificed enough: about 4,500 soldiers have died in combat, eight times that many have been wounded, and anywhere from $1 trillion to $3 trillion (depending on how you count) has been spent on the war.  Enough is enough.



  1. Folks, don’t just read this blog. How about letters to your senators & congressperson now, today, expressing: Not one more American life to be lost in Iraq. Be heard from now. Yes, we’ve heard promises before, but Maliki has shown no commitment to inclusion or building reasonable civil institutions. Roz Roseman

    1. Wise words. I’m sure quite a few organizations will be petitioning on this one, but individual letters have their own power. Just after posting my piece, Obama was reported to be considering further aid to Iraq, with everything on the table. Here we go again!

  2. Way to go, Mel! We just can’t do this again. I’ll try to get with my letters–I guess they can never stop. Thanks, Marilyn

  3. “Lets face it, war is money. The arms manufacturers tell me unless we get our bomb factories up to full production, the whole economy is gonna collapse”

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