After the United States spent $1 trillion fighting an illegal war in Iraq, leaving 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, one can make a plausible case that the carnage now plaguing the dysfunctional New Iraq is America’s responsibility. But it’s not. The United States is no longer responsible for Iraq, and for all the devastation that George W. Bush wreaked in that battered country, the United States ought to stay out.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington this week to argue the opposite, begging for arms from the United States—without a lot of success, it seems—and pretending that he’s not a Shiite-sectarian autocrat who is more or less allied with Iran.
As I’ve documented repeatedly here since April, the return of Iraq’s Sunni-led insurgency, partly linked to Al Qaeda and its affiliate in Syria, has led to an enormous upsurge in violence. In the past six months, about 7,000 Iraqis have died as the result of a wave of coordinated car bombings, suicide bombs, assassinations and other actions. (Compare that to Syria, where about 100,000 people have died in two and half years of civil war, and you’ll notice that the pace of killings in Iraq isn’t far behind. And, as The Washington Post reported: “Killings in Iraq are now on pace to match the levels of 2008, the year that sectarian violence bordering on a civil war began to abate.”)
The conflict in Iraq has drawn the attention of General Lloyd Austin, head of the US Central Command, who said:
“If left unchecked, we could find ourselves in a regional sectarian struggle that could last a decade. What we are very worried about is a continued downward spiral that takes you to a civil war. It could easily get worse.”
It could, indeed, get worse. But it not America’s job—and certainly not General Austin’s job—to fix it. And certainly, the United States shouldn’t be arming Iraq, which is what Maliki wants.
It’s not likely that President Obama wants get involved in Iraq again, and sentiment in Congress seems dead-set against giving weapons to Maliki’s government. But it’s hard for the president—any president—to resist the momentum of the military-industrial complex and the US arms export industry, and so it does seem that the United States will soon be shipping advanced weapons to Baghdad. Iraq has already deposited $650 million as a down payment for a delivery of 36 F-16 jet fighters. In addition, Iraq wants (but may not get, just yet), despite the fact that Baghdad is being ably assisted by the Podesta Group, the Democratic Party–connected lobbying firm in Washington. As The New York Times reports, Maliki wants “Apache helicopter gunships [including Hellfire missiles], more American intelligence and other forms of counterterrorism support like reconnaissance drones that would be operated by Americans.”