Tag Archives: Iraq

Reconsidering US Intervention in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, who previously served as interim Minister of Oil and Deputy Prime Minister in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, died yesterday. Chalabi was a Shiite Iraqi who studied in the United States, ultimately becoming a key adviser for the neoconservative advisers who shaped President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He is perhaps most well-known for his role in pushing for US intervention to remove Hussein from power in 2003. Indeed, Chalabi was a key asset for the US intelligence agencies, asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”

What do you think? Knowing what we do now about Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was US intervention to remove Hussein warranted? Should the United States have invaded Iraq? Why?

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The Ongoing Fight Against ISIS

Fighting between the Iraqi government and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) intensified over the weekend, as ISIS apparently captured the center of the city of Ramadi west of Baghdad. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, and the Iraqi government had thought it was making progress in driving ISIS from the area.

At the same time, US Special Operations forces announced on Saturday that an operation in Syria had resulted in the killing of Abu Sayyaf, the Chief Financial Officer and second in command of ISIS. The operation also resulted in securing several prisoners and “reams” of data on ISIS’s financial operations.

What do you think? What strategy might be successful in countering the growing influence and reach of ISIS in the region? Should the United States use its military in support of operations? Or should it leave primary responsibility for dealing with ISIS to regional actors? What would you advise?

Reviewing Iraqi Leadership

As calls for Iraq’s embattled President Nouri al-Maliki to resign intensify, the competition for who will replace him have heated up. Maliki’s government has been widely criticized for failing to reach out to the country’s minority Shia and Kurdish population, and the government of the autonomous Kurdish region has even toyed with declaring independence from Iraq in recent weeks. The stinging defeats of Iraqi military forces by militants associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has left Maliki in a vulnerable position.

As Iraq’s parliament meets, there appear to be several leading contenders to replace Maliki as president. This video from the New York Times provides a brief biography for each of the four leading candidates for the position.

What do you think? Who would be the most effective replacement for Maliki as head of the Iraqi government? Will the new president be more effective in addressing the growing challenge posed by ISIS? Why?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Al Qaeda militants seized control of the Iraqi city of Mosul yesterday, forcing the country’s prime minister to request parliament declare a state of emergency in the country. According to the BBC, overnight, hundreds of militants sized control of local government offices, police stations, the airport, and regional army headquarters. An estimated 150,000 people have fled the city, sparking Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the neighboring province of Kurdistan to issue a statement requesting the UN refugee agency step up assistance for those fleeing Mosul.

The past week has seen a sharp uptick in violence in Iraq, with the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its allies launching a series of attacks across northern Iraq. While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has promised swift measures to enhance security in the country and drive back ISIS forces, it is not clear how effective Iraq’s fledgling military will be. While the United States completed the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq in 2011, the United States continues to provide support for the Iraqi military.

What do you think? Does the rise of ISIS and other militant Islamic groups in Iraq necessitate an increase in US involvement in Iraq? What should the US role in Iraq look like? Should it be limited to financial assistance and military aid? Should the United States provide air support? Military training? More extensive involvement? And what happens if Iraq falls to Islamic militants?

Fallujah and the Resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq

The Iraqi government today reported that it had lost control of the strategic city of Fallujah west of Baghdad. The admission comes after days of fighting between government forces and al-Qaeada and Sunni militias in the region. The fighting in Fallujah marks the highpoint in ongoing struggles between Sunni and Shi’a groups across Iraq, with Sunnis feeling that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has systematically favored Shi’as over Sunnis. Civilian deaths in Iraq in 2013 were at their highest level since 2008, and many observers fear that a full-scale sectarian conflict could be emerging.

Does the loss of Fallujah signal the resurgence of al Qaeda in the region? If so, what if anything should the United States do to address the situation in Iraq?

Can Realism Solve America’s (and the World’s) Foreign Policy Problems?

Former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is on trial for war crimes, including genocide, for his role in the 1992-95 Bosnian War. Stephen Walt argues that Bosnia is one of the few things realists might have gotten wrong over the past two decades.

Noted realist and Harvard professor Stephen Walt recently made a blog post entitled “What if realists were in charge of U.S. foreign policy?”  It offers a top ten list of ways the world would be better off with realists in charge, rather than the coalition of “neoconservatives and liberal internationalists” that Walt suggests have made a mess of U.S. foreign policy.  Recall that the realist approach to international relations is pessimistic about the prospects for lasting peace and cooperation and emphasizes national interests, stability, and a balance of power, while idealists (sometimes called liberals) believe morality should play a role in foreign policy and are optimistic that trade, international organizations, and democracy can help to promote peace and cooperation among states.  This previous blog post provides an overview of realism and idealism in the context of democracy promotion in the Middle East.

Some of the items on Walt’s top ten list include:

#1: No War in Iraq

#3: Staying out of the nation-building business

#6: No Balkan adventures

#7: A normal relationship with Israel

#8: A more sensible approach to nuclear weapons

#10: A growing focus on China

Walt is certainly a master at articulating the realist critiques of recent American foreign policy and suggesting how realists would have “done better” if at the helm.  For a similar (and more entertaining) argument for the superiority of realism that uses characters from the Godfather as representatives of realism (Michael Corleone), liberal institutionalism (Tom Hagen), and neoconservatism (Sonny Corleone), see the short book entitled The Godfather Doctrine.

But is Walt’s depiction unduly rosy and aided by the benefit of hindsight?  To hear Walt tell it, most of America’s (and many of the world’s) problems could be solved by enlightened realist policies.  His top ten list doesn’t grapple with the uncertainty or the complexity of the tradeoffs that confront policymakers on a host of issues, and he only briefly acknowledges that staying out of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya  may have had some humanitarian downsides (e.g., genocide in the case of Bosnia).

What do you think?  Does Walt’s list make a compelling case for the superiority of the realist approach to world politics? (He explains each point on his top ten list).  Or does his commitment to the realist perspective create “blinders” to the weaknesses or ambiguities of implementing a realist foreign policy?

Sunnis, Shiites, and the Arab Spring

Was Osama bin Laden a Sunni or Shiite Muslim? Can you identify the ruling sect in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria?

Today’s Formula 1 race in Bahrain occurred without incident, but many observers had feared violence would mar the festivities.  This is because Bahrain, like several other countries in the region, is experiencing ongoing unrest pitting anti-government protesters against the ruling authorities.  And, as in other Middle Eastern countries, this clash has broken down along sectarian lines, with Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims vying for power.

While some Western commentators speak broadly of the “Arab and Muslim world,” painting with such broad strokes obscures many of the differences that help to make sense of the politics of today’s Middle East.  A few examples:

* In Iraq, the Sunni minority (which was in power under Saddam Hussein) is now facing a resurgent Shiite majority which controls the parliament and much of the executive branch. This struggle involves political competition and violence, although one commentator argues much of the violence is really about jihadism rather than sectarianism.

* Like in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Bahrain’s minority Sunnis enjoy power over the majority Shiites.  Sunnis have now mobilized to protect the regime and crack down on protesting Shiites.

* Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni power, has intervened in Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria with military, economic, or political tools to help support the rise of Sunni actors and the defeat of Shiite forces.

* Iran, the region’s leading Shiite power, has close ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syria’s ruling Alawite sect.  The Alawites split off from Shia Islam over 1,000 years ago and consider Iran an ally in maintaining power against Syria’s restive Sunni majority.

Despite the importance of the Sunni-Shiite distinction in understanding today’s Middle East, many American policymakers (even some counter-terrorism officials) have displayed their ignorance on this point.  See this Op-Ed piece from Congressional Quarterly national security editor Jeff Stein for examples drawn from Stein’s interviews with U.S. officials.

It’s easy to scoff at these answers, but can you do any better?  Take this quiz on the differences between Sunni and Shiite Islam and see how well you do.