In 2003, around the time the US invaded Iraq, the New York Times published a letter with an ominous message. The author wrote that Iraq can only be ruled with an iron fist, because it consists of tribes with different ethnicity, cultures and/or religious convictions hating each other so much that there would be a bloodbath if they were not kept from killing each other by a harshly autocratic regime. The letter was written in 1918 by the British general who was in charge of Iraq immediately after WWI. He was an absolute expert on the matter, because he had witnessed from close by how England and France had divvied up the Middle East and drawn the borders of Iraq without caring about the issues that kept him awake. Of course nobody in the Bush/Cheney administration paid attention, but soon after the invasion of Iraq then Senator Biden posed the legitimate question if Iraq should be one country, or if it should be divided in three, one part for the Kurds, one for the Sunnis, and one for the Shiites.
Biden’s question was ignored too, except in academic circles with knowledge of the relations between the different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, and the Bush/Cheney administration set out to build a western style democracy in Iraq, as a cover up for the real objective of the invasion: getting their hands on an oil supply that equaled Saudi Arabia’s, as Col. Larry Wilkerson (ret.), at the time Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff at the State Department, recently explained one more time on MSNBC. On the sane side of the political spectrum it is now common knowledge how well that project went, with a Shiite Iraqi government in Baghdad, controlled by Iran, a Sunni uprising called ISIS in northern Iraq and part of Syria, and the Kurds in a semi-autonomous area that is less and less semi and more and more autonomous. The Iraqi oil production was never restored to its pre-invasion level, let alone that it paid for the more than 2 trillion dollars the US wasted in Iraq, and is now partly controlled by ISIS and partly by the Kurds.
And the US hasn’t learned a thing. Barack Obama’s recent decision to send another 450 ‘advisors’ to Iraq, probably soon to be followed by more, to retake the Anbar province from ISIS, generates a couple of questions: retake on behalf of whom, the Sunnis who don’t want to fight for it and increasingly associate themselves with ISIS, or the Iraqi government, whose army doesn’t want to fight for it either? No and no, should be the answer, and that leaves the Iranians as the only beneficiaries.
It’s hard to imagine that Obama doesn’t see the futility of the American ‘strategy,’ a word he can barely pronounce anymore, but he is under too much pressure from the military and the right not to do something. What America does, however, all goes back to that one fantasy: that Iraq is a country with a national culture and character and that all ethnic and religious groups want it that way. As long as the US doesn’t abandon that illusion everything it tries to accomplish is doomed to fail.
Therefore I have a suggestion for Obama and his staff: instead of advisors, let’s send hundreds of pollsters to Iraq, to ask the various groups what kind of state they really want, and if maybe they’d rather not see Iraq restored. This should have been done immediately after the invasion in 2003, but it’s never too late, and there is still a chance of getting the US policy right by aligning it with the aspirations of people of all kinds of ethnicity and persuasion who happen to live in a country that doesn’t exist.