Remember Iraq? That country that the United States invaded and utterly destroyed in 2003? Most of America has completely forgotten Iraq, as if it never happened. (They don’t like to think much about the current, ongoing war in Afghanistan, either, but that’s another story.) In a spasm of collective amnesia, the American people, the media and political pundits have shied away from mentioning Iraq. In the upcoming presidential campaign, President Obama might mention now and then that he “ended” the war in Iraq, and in truth he did wind down the war a tad more quickly than the generals and the Republicans might have wanted, although the timetable of the US drawdown there were pretty much set in stone in 2008, under pressure from the Iraqis, in an accord between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it’s not likely you’ll see Obama saying much about Iraq—that is, about how Bush and his cronies waged an unprovoked war of aggression there—nor will you see Mitt Romney saying much, if anything, about Obama’s drawdown.
None of this means that the United States ought to be getting involved again, God forbid.
As Michael Knights, an astute observer of Iraqi security affairs and tribal politics in southern Iraq notes, in a piece written for Foreign Policy, the United States once again knows very little about what’s going on there, especially since American troops and intelligence officers packed up and left. Which means that the United States know just about what it knew when it barged into Iraq in 2003, namely, not a thing. (As Chas Freeman, the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia often says, “We didn’t invade Iraq. We invaded the Iraq of our dreams.) Says Knights:
U.S. awareness in Iraq began to decline as soon as the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that determined American troops' departure date was signed in November 2008, and it accelerated as the slow drawdown of forces commenced. By the summer of 2011, U.S.-collected Significant Activity (SIGACT) reports on militant attacks were becoming ragged—lacking detail, containing erroneous geospatial data, and only partially covering key parts of the country and certain classes of activity. In fall 2011, whole provinces began to "go dark" as the last U.S. forces left. And at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2011, the U.S. military incident reporting system issued its last SIGACT report. As ordered by its political masters, the U.S. military turned off the lights and locked the doors behind them.
As a result, says Knights, “The truth is that the United States is now flying blind in Baghdad.”
And Knights notes that things in Iraq aren’t good, based on an analysis of media reports on violence in Iraq, which is slowly ticking upward: car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings. It’s nothing like 2006-2007, when thousands died every month in horrific carnage, but it’s bad and getting worse.
In a piece based on direct reporting, including an interview with Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president who’s been accused of being a terrorist by Maliki, and wire service reports, Susan Crabtree writes in the Washington Times:
June was Iraq’s second-deadliest month since U.S. troops pulled out Dec. 18, 2011, and a major bombing or shooting rampage occurs about twice a week. Many target Shiite pilgrims and carry the hallmarks of al Qaeda, although some Iraqis said they think other factions are responsible. Clashes in neighboring Syria and lethal attacks by the Sunni-led opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime are emboldening Iraqi Sunnis to attack government targets, exacerbating sectarian tensions in a “spillover” effect, regional analysts say.
“It’s quite remarkable to me that everyone is so concerned about Syria and the spillover that could take place with a Syrian civil war, but an Iraqi civil war would be worse,” said Ken Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
Not that the United States can do much about it. In fact, Iraq isn’t close to civil war, yet. (In fact, Iraq’s oil output is rising steadily, and may surpass Iran’s for 2012.) But in American politics, Iraq is radioactive, and the Obama administration quite rightly isn’t going to get involved in trying to help patch Iraq back together. (Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says in Crabtree’s piece that the chances of that happening are a “snowball in hell.”)
Conservatives and those hoping to repair the Bush administration’s Iraqi train-wreck might want to highlight Iraq’s current troubles because it makes Obama look like he’s responsible for abandoning Iraq. Others, of course, want to resurrect Iraq as a weapon in the anti-Iran fight, hoping to exploit Iran’s vast and growing influence in Iraqi affairs since 2003, when Bush helpfully removed the biggest enemy of Iran.
Still, it’s important for liberals, the left and the antiwar movement to remember Iraq by borrowing the phrase, “Never again.”
And here’s what the Obama administration ought to do about violence in Iraq: Nothing.