The crisis now engulfing Iraq provides the ultimate condemnation of the decision by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts—backed, of course, by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry—to invade Iraq in 2003. That action, which destroyed virtually all of Iraq’s institutions and created a power vacuum that led directly to an ethnic and sectarian civil war, is now playing out all of its terrible consequences.
Yesterday, in a surprise military action, fighters from the Al Qaeda–linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized what appears to be virtual control of Nineveh province and Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. The insurgents, working in close coordination with Islamist forces in Syria fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, seized the governor’s office in Mosul, the airport, the television station and other key locations, and invaded prisons, freeing large numbers of prisoners. According to numerous reports, the Iraqi army and police suffered a huge defeat, melting away and fleeing en masse, leaving their weapons behind. The governor, a leading Sunni politician whose brother is speaker of the Iraqi parliament, managed to escape.
It’s a catastrophic development for Iraq, and it puts murderous terrorists in control of an enormous part of Iraq’s north and west. Already, ISIS and its allies have occupied and controlled the city of Falluja, a key urban center in Anbar province, and have launched deadly attacks across Iraq, even in the east and south. Earlier this week, ISIS militants stormed into the city of Samarra, the city in which the sectarian war in Iraq started in earnest in 2006 when Sunni extremist insurgents bombed an ancient Shiite mosque, and were repelled in heavy fighting. And in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, which almost fell to insurgents earlier this year, this week ISIS militants attacked a leading university and held students hostage.
Though not quite reaching Syria’s level of carnage, the toll in Iraq is staggering, with more than 8,000 killed in 2013 and monthly totals that suggest an even higher number of deaths this year; in May, 799 Iraqis died as the result of suicide bombings, car bombs, targeted assassinations, tit-for-tat killings and other civil war–like violence, according to the United Nations—and that data doesn’t even include Anbar province.
Much of the blame for the chaos lies with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who emerged from the April 30 elections in a strong position to claim another term as Iraq’s strongman leader. Since taking office with American support during the occupation, Maliki has ruled as an iron-fisted sectarian Shiite, rallying Shiite support to his side by shutting out Sunnis from power and persecuting leading Sunni politicians who dared challenge him. (For a detailed, and chilling, account of Maliki’s rise to power and his imperious rule, take a look at Dexter Filkins’s New Yorker piece from last April.) Maliki, of course, rose to power with support from the United States and Iran, though each country had different objectives.