The Second Iran-Iraq War and the American Switch

Iran has decided to intervene directly in Iraq and has already sent fighters to the front, according to the Wall Street Journal, based on Iranian sources. It is alleged that Iranian special forces have helped the Iraqi army push back in Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam Hussein that was overrun earlier this week by ISIS, which captured the city’s police force. These reports come on the heels of President Hassan Rouhani’s pledge on Thursday that Iran would not stand by and allow terrorists to take over Iraq. The hyper-Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters are closing in on a major Shiite shrine in Samarra and have pledge to take Baghdad, the capital, itself.

Iran has allegedly supplied small numbers of advisers and even hired Afghan fighters to the Syrian regime, and encouraged Lebanon’s Hizbullah to intervene in Syria to prevent the fall of Homs to Sunni extremists. These Iranian interventions in Syria did shore up the al-Assad regime and reverse rebel momentum. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps may believe it can use the same tactics to roll back ISIS in Iraq. Iran is largely Shiite and has a Shiite religious ideology as the basis of the state. Iraq is 60% Shiite and the ruling government since 2005 has come from that community. Sunni Arabs in Iraq are probably only 17% or so, but had been the elite for most of Iraq’s medieval and modern history, until George W. Bush overthrew the predominantly Sunni Saddam Hussein regime and allowed the Shiites to come to power.

Iraqi Shiites predominate in Baghdad and parts south. Shiites are more like traditional Catholics in venerating members of the holy family and attending at their shrines. Contemporary Salafi Sunni Islam is more like the militant brand of Protestantism of the late 1500s that denounced intermediaries between God and the individual and actually attacked and destroyed shrines to saints and other holy figures, where pleas for intercession were made. The shrine in Samarra is associated with the 12th in the line of vicars of the Prophet Muhammad, called Imams in Shi’ism, Muhammad al-Mahdi, a direct descendant of the Prophet himself. Shiites have a special emphasis on a millenarian expectation that the Twelfth Imam will soon return to restore justice to the world (rather as Christians believe in the return of Christ). When the Samarra shrine was damaged by Sunni militants in 2006, it threw Iraq into civil war, in which 3000 civilians were being killed every month. Baghdad was ethnically cleansed by 2008 of most of its Sunnis, becoming a largely Shiite capital. ISIS wants to reverse that process. Baghdad was founded by the Abbasid caliphate, who claimed to be vicars of the Prophet, in 762 AD and is a symbol of the glories of early Islam. ISIS leaders are threatening also to destroy the shrine of Ali in Najaf and the shrine of Husain in Karbala (Najaf for Shiites is the equivalent of the Basilica of St. Peter for Catholics).

The specter of Iranian troops on Iraqi soil can only recall the first Iran-Iraq War.

From September of 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan Province, until summer 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini finally accepted an armistice, Iran and Iraq fought one of the Middle East’s longest and bloodiest wars. Its trench warfare and hidden naval encounters recalled the horrors of World War I, as did the Iraqi Baath government’s deployment of mustard gas against Iranian soldiers at the front and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians suspected of pro-Iranian sentiments.

The Reagan administration in the United States largely backed Iraq from 1983, when Reagan dispatched then Searle CEO Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand. This, despite Iraq being the clear aggressor and despite Reagan’s full knowledge of Iraqi use of chemical weapons, about which George Schultz at the State Department loudly complained until he was shushed. Then, having his marching orders straight, Schultz had the US ambassador to the UN deep-six any UN Security Council resolution condemning Iraq for the chemical weapons deployment. The US navy fought an behind the scenes war against Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, becoming a de facto appendage of the Baath military.

Just because the Reagan administration was so Machiavellian, it also gave some minor support Iran in the war. Reagan stole anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry from the Pentagon storehouses and illegally sold them to Khomeini despite Iran being on the US terrorism watch list. He then had Iran pressure the Shiite militiamen in Lebanon to release American hostages. Reagan sent the money received from Iran to death squads in Nicaragua fighting the people’s revolution there against a brutal American-installed dictatorship. This money was sent to Nicaraguan death squads in defiance of the Boland Amendment passed by Congress forbidding US monies to go there. Ollie North, whom you see prevaricating on Fox News these days, was a bag man for the operation.

They may as well have broken into the National Archives Nick Cage style, broken out the original copy of the constitution, and put it through a shredder several times in a row till small confetti pieces were all that were left.

It is unclear how many people Saddam’s bloody war killed off. A quarter of a million on each side seems plausible. So many young men were part of a “missing generation” that the Iranian regime had to let women into the workforce and universities in very large numbers despite its preference for them to remain home and secluded. In Iraq, there were many widows, and some were forced to become low-status second wives, or single heads of household, or, among Shiites, temporary wives. Iraq depleted its currency reserves in the war and went into debt with Kuwait among others, then in 1990 invaded and tried to annex Kuwait. Saddam dealt with his creditors the way organized crime might deal with its.

In the looming second Iran-Iraq War, the US will be de facto allied with Iran against the would-be al-Qaeda affiliate (ISIS was rejected by core al-Qaeda for viciously attacking other militant vigilante Sunni fundamentalists in turf wars in Syria). The position of the US is therefore 180 degrees away from what it was under Reagan.

In fact, since ISIS is allegedly bankrolled by private Salafi businessmen in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf, the US is on the opposite side of all its former allies of the 1980s. In some ways, some of the alleged stagnation of US policy in the Middle East may derive from a de facto US switch to the Iranian side on most issues, at the same time that US rhetoric supports Iran’s enemies in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is possible that a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda-like groups in Iraq and Syria could clarify their budding new relationship and lead to a tectonic shift in US policy in the Middle East. The Indeed, Reuters says Iranian officials are offering the possibility of security cooperation with the us. One things seems clear. Without Iran, the US is unlikely to be able to roll by al-Qaeda affiliates and would-be affiliates in the Fertile Crescent, who ultimately could pose a danger to US interests.

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Related video

Reuters: “Mass exodus in northern Iraq as Sunni rebels surge towards Baghdad ”

59 Responses

  1. Great context for the practicalities and unpredictabilities that surround current events. But despite a genuine mutual threat, can the power’s that be in the US come to regard Iran as anything other than an expedient? Unless the underlying values of the US change, it seems the Iranians will inevitably be stiffed.

    The Iranians certainly have a realistic understanding of US politics, and the confidence that may come out of this sort of relationship won’t hurt. But I’m not sure further development, and perhaps an outright consolidation of Iranian influence over Iraq, is a pill those with influence over US policy are going to be happy to swallow.

  2. The US and Iran have long had common interests and the fact that they are not open allies is senseless. Were it not for an increasingly sentimental, as opposed to interest-base, attachment to Israel, this natural alliance would be more likely to take hold.

  3. Nice refreshment course that takes us back to the days when the US could not care less about the gassing of Iraqis until it became a talking point by the Bush neocons. I remember Condi Rice threatening to end an interview because she was being grilled about the bogus intelligence used to invade Iraq, grasping for straws she screamed….”He gassed his own people!” Ms. Rice then threw it back on the reporter asking if he condoned that kind of behavior, to which the reporter could have shot back, “No, but Reagan did!”

  4. If I remember correctly, don’t the Shia vastly outnumber the Sunnis? The Saudis may have ignited a war they can not win in the end. Granted right now the Shia seem to be terrible cowards, but over time, especially with Iran guidance, things could drastically change. This will be fun to watch from afar as the region finally sorts out the long term power structure (just as Europe and Asia had to do through wars over many centuries). The US has no dog in this fight and we should simply pop some popcorn, open a beer and watch this on our HDTVs.

    If some in the US want more war, Obama should invoke the US Constitution and force both houses of congress the authorize war, pass massive taxes to pay for it and reactivate the draft to provide sufficient cannon fodder. Obama should dump this in the lap of congress and watch them back peddle like crazy in an election year. Very quickly I suspect, Obama will be prohibited by congress from any help at all to anyone.

    • Excellent advice spyguy, which of course means little chance of it happening. The best outcome for now might be that Iraq devolves into part of a new Kurdistan, part of western Iran and part of whatever Syria is turning into. Oil fields will be the real prizes for all parties involved, so plenty of blood and treasure will be spilled over these regardless of what flag flies over them.

    • In the Islamic world, about 85% are Sunni and 15% are Shia. Only 4 countries in the world have Shia majorities: Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain.

      • Thanks. Based on “normal” human reaction to oppression, I would expect that Shia should be even more fierce about resisting Sunnis than they have so far exhibited.

    • I agree mostly, but not so much with the “pop some popcorn…” I certainly don’t want us to join the fight in a real way, but neither am I going to sit back and “enjoy” it. Sadness at the stupidity and hubris of violent men; weeping with those who weep (our human brothers and sisters over there); praying for peace ; that’s what I’ll be doing…

  5. There is one aspect of this that is not discussed often. The elevated price of Oil …. This abomination is causing the benefactors of Sunni extremist fighters – who are Sunni extremists themselves – to have windfall profits which are diverted by them to this nefarious purpose.

    Iran and the US on the same side is a welcome development. We need to fight the menace of ISIS and other such extremists on the ground militarily, but also need to fight them in the commodities marketplace (by removing excessive long positions by wall street)

    • There is ONLY one sure-fire guaranteed way to lower the profit margin of oil, DECREASE THE DEMAND. While fracking has temporarily increased supply (at huge long term cost), the ONLY way to lower the profit is to decrease the demand by rapidly moving the world to other forms of energy, especially portable energy (cars, trucks, trains and aircraft). If the US had taken the TRILLIONS it has wasted in the ME wars and converted transportation to electric, the profit in oil would be much less. Note that the cost of production in the ME is so low, it would be very hard to drive the profit to zero, but the oil billionaires in the ME have such high living costs, just lowering the profit a little would devastate their lifestyles. Unfortunately Americans have always been extremely short term focused (what is lunch today), and do not have the political will to sacrifice a little today to have a better future.

      • Well said sir. Wish more people, especially those I know personally would think this way – but they don’t, so here we are. More sorrows brought to us via our neo-con, profit, carbon and military/gun worshipping class.

      • Truer words have rarely been spoken. But we are starting to make some progress, better mileage vehicles, less driving, and now a viable but still tiny EV industry. Even five years ago electrification of transport felt like a pipedream. Now it looks like it simply requires some will and good sense and it will be here within a decade.

    • I recall reading a piece by an economist whose name I don’t recall about a year after the 2008 collapse and he predicted that since Wall Street could no longer slice and dice mortgage securities they would turn to oil commodity futures to play with. I have no idea if this is indeed part of the reason why gas prices have remained so high for so many years now even when production costs have declined and our imports have declined as well.

      Anyone with any facts on this?

  6. I appreciate the history lesson, Professor Cole. Such context will be in short supply from commentators, I fear. There’s going to be a massive propaganda war in this conflict, and your website will be one of my trusted sources of information.

  7. The largest tank battles ever fought in the history of warfare , at that time, happened during the First Iraq-Iran War. I don’t think those battles made it on the front pages of the NYT and WSJ at the time. If they were reported on at all, these battles were probably buried way in the back among incidental news stories. There was a special brigade of Iranian teenage boys, anointed, blessed by whoever or “whatever” would be a better word, that walked out into minefields so they could detonate them and clear paths for the tanks and soldiers. Now, holy horse hockey, Batman, that’s taking religion, any religion, way too seriously for me. The bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut happened on Ronald Reagan’s watch. 241 marine dead, 60 wounded. Worst terrorist attack prior to 9/11, worst day for Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima and worst week since the Tet Offensive of 1968. Wow, that should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. And despite the intelligence reports Reagan had that Iran was behind the Hezbollah operation, he had no moral qualms, none what so ever, arming Iranians with those weapons that Professor Cole mentioned in his post. Imagine what a field day all these Rambos in the GOP would have had if the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut happened during Barack Obama’s watch? Also, Reagan allowed the CIA spooks to share satellite photos of the Iraqi deployments of tanks and troops that proved vital for Iranians to plan their battles against them. It turned the tide in the war, and Saddam Hussein sued for peace soon afterwards. But that’s what friends are for. Right? Win one for the Gipper, Saddam. (Writing my comments right now I felt like I did when I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 while serving in Vietnam.) Professor Cole mention the WSJ In his post. It has an editorial today and now terms the events in Iraq as a debacle. Oh really? But I thought the Iraq War would be a debacle during the propaganda campaign. Of course everyone on the left condemned George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts for that war. But they conveniently forget Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel also voted for that war. Imagine that. That’s when in the pages of The New Republic, the phrase “liberal hawk” came into vogue with all the policy wonks inside the beltway bubble. How do I really feel about the debacle unfolding now in Iraq? Well, to all the Shiite and Sunni militiamen, to all the soldiers in the Peshmerga, and let’s not forget -my favorite – to all those zany and whacky jihadists in the ISIS, remember guys: location, location, location, location, as they say in the real estate business. And of course, guys, please keep your AK-47s clean and in good working order. Your weapon is your only real friend in war. And, last but not least, shoot first and ask questions later. I know, it’s rude. But you’ll be still alive.

    • George: “The bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut happened on Ronald Reagan’s watch. 241 marine dead, 60 wounded. Worst terrorist attack prior to 9/11″

      Care to explain to me how an attack on a Marine barracks can be a “terrorist attack”?

      Such an argument rather presupposes that the US Marine Corp can be “terrified”, which is a concept that they would probably find offensive.

      Those were soldier, on active duty, in a foreign country wracked by a civil war.

      They were “attacked”, sure, they were. No argument there.

      And wether that attack was justified or not, horrific or not, it was still an “attack”, which is not at all the same thing as a “terrorist attack”.

    • The largest tank battle in history occurred during the battle of Kursk in July 1943. The battle raged over two weeks and involved about 8000 tanks. In one day at the village of Prokhorovka (inside the Kursk salient) a battle occurred with about 1200 tanks on both sides.

  8. Will the U.S. changed course in Syria and help Iran and Hezbollah prop up Assad? If that happens, will we turn against the Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

    What about Israel?

    • If Americans actually cared about our future, we would completely ignore Israel. Israel created its own problems and they can waste their own cannon fodder and wealth to lose everything because of their stubbornness.

      • …200 to 600 nuclear weapons…and of course The Samson Option: “Israel let it be know that was willing to take down the entire world rather than allow the Zionist dream to come to an end. This is what is known as “the Samson Option,” named after the biblical character who destroyed his enemies by pushing down the columns of a [goyisher] temple, killing himself in the process.” Are humans wonderful? Or just wonderfully stupid?

        • Except that the “Zionist dream” is far more likely to end in a whimper, not with a bang.

          Pretty hard to nuke a trade embargo, or vaporize a country because they refuse to buy your goods.

          After all, where do you decide Ground Zero?

        • Using the “Samson Option” would mean not only would all the Jews in Israel commit mass suicide, but it would also make every non-Israeli Jew on earth (55%+) into targets as the victims of the nuclear devastated earth look for revenge. Basically, nuclear weapons are ONLY good for two things – committing mass suicide and keeping the US from attacking. On a positive note, Israel does not have that many delivery systems. the four active subs each only have about 6 nuclear cruise missiles with less than 500 range. Israel also has about 100 Jericho missiles. It is very likely that before Israel got too many launched, Israel would cease to exist. BUT then there is the “slight” problem that current modeling of nuclear war has shown that as few as FIVE nuclear air-bursts over large cities would trigger nuclear winter. Personally, I do not think that most Jewish people are that suicidal and that Samson Option is a bluff.

      • American politicians have no intention of ignoring Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to ally itself with Iran and/or Hezbollah, not to mention Assad in Syria. ISIS is a problem, but as soon as the U.S. thinks up a way to roll them back or contain them, the big pieces on the chess board will look basically the same, except for the Kurds in Kirkuk.

        The Kurds taking Kirkuk is probably like Putin taking Crimea–a done deal.

  9. It seems a little exaggerated to call it an “Iran-Iraq” war when 60% of Iraq’s population is on the side of ‘Iran’ and another 20% is sitting it out totally. Iran is certainly backing the Shia in Iraq but a 99% of the fighting is still between Iraqi citizens, this is a civil war, not an international one.

  10. Many thanks for a fantastic summary of the Iran-Iraq war and its consequences. The successes of the ISIS are stunning and it is clear that they receive quite a lot of backing from a variety of sources. However, the silly game of Iran-bashing and geopolitical considerations have run their course. It is no good going over the terrible mistakes made by various US, Iranian and Iraqi governments. What is important is that the countries in the region will unite to put out this fire and gain the upper hand, because otherwise the Middle East and the world will be faced with a catastrophe greater than anything experienced since the Second World War.

    The misadventure in Syria to cut off Iran’s link to Hezbollah has failed, and the terrorists have not only destroyed Syria, but now they are busy destroying what is left of Iraq, and soon they will turn their attention to Turkey, Jordan and beyond. It was the US-Iranian cooperation under the Shah that established some order in the region. No matter how hard it is for some people to accept it, only the United States and Iran with the cooperation of Turkey are capable of stemming the tide of militant Sunni radicalism. Let us hope that some politicians who have a short-term view of history will come to their senses and realize that they have to reverse course and follow a new political path in the region.

    • It would be very interesting who specifically is backing ISIS – which is a group that is so extreme that al-Qaeda has denounced it due to its actions in Syria in fracturing the opposition to the Baathists.

      When the U.S. Marines were fighting ISIS at Falluja, there were some stories that the Assad regime was helping ISIS – and there is also suspicion that ISIS has been covertly supported by the Syrian government in fighting other anti-Assad elements within Syria.

      ISIS, like Hezbollah, has become a government-within-a-government in areas of Iraq and Syria. It has its own council of ministers and has been known for its extreme brutality against the inhabitants of areas it controls.

      What is significant is that there are reports of former Baathists from Saddam Hussein’s regime, including former Iraqi Baathist General Izzat al-Douri, a former confidante of Saddam Hussein and the “King of Clubs” in the legendary “Deck of Cards” issued by the U.S. Department of Defense to promote apprehension of fugitives from that regime, engaged in the fighting at Mosul.

  11. Great recap and interesting historical comparison on Catholics and Protestants. Wall Street Journal also claimed the Wahhabi Saudi Arabian regime were actively supporting ISIS, as revenge for losing Syria, to knock off Al-Maliki and Shiites, on that ideological hatred of theirs. They’re probably squealing in delight that the shrines are about to be destroyed. If Iran steps up, the fear is that the Gulf Arabs will pump in support like they once did for Saddam. And it seems there is also some deal of strong Iraqi Sunni opposition against ISIS…they are caught in a tough situation…there are just some brutal executions and atrocities being committed by ISIS.

    Its infuriating the types of War Crimes the US has gotten away with and criminal hypocrisy where the first world war criminals can snub their nose in a cloak of self-righteousness. And the Gulf regimes need to be held accountable for how they’ve exported and wrecked different nations with their intolerant ideologies from 80’s onward. Honestly feel like Shiites have more reason to hate the US, rather than Sunnis, but the latter have seem to proliferate the greater number of violent extremists against the US.

    The US and Iran have to let go of their animosities, the ’53 CIA coup and the ’79 hostage crisis, and rethink their Israel-Palestine policies. US particularly who rebuffed opportunities whenever reformists reached out to them, such as Rafsanjani or Khatami, (even nut Ahmedinejad – but damn Cheney and the gang), either due to foreign policy fear or due to new elections.

    The US is also on the wrong side of the apartheid in Israel-Palestine. Its unjust and hypocritical, if not religiously dogmatic, pandering to voters and groups. Cutting deals with with Egyptian military strongmen or radical Saudi Arabian alliances (Chomsky made a good point ‘The US is not against political Islam, otherwise they’d oppose the radical fundamentalist Saudi allies’) or denial of nukes and other ridiculous Israel-centric policies and cover-up in the ME, sabotaging the peace process, and this is true for other Western nations, and are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Still, Iran seems not to know its limitations of interests on Israel-Palestine, their sectarian shadow and views against them. Support the South Lebanese, but take a step back from the Palestinian cause. Most are Sunnis and whether they’re religious Islamic Jihad/Hamas or perceived secular Fatah, they will often feel resentful and uneasy. Likewise Sunni Arab govts and populations. Rhetoric, support or participation of populist Israel armed opposition garners only brief respect. And of course stop theological delusional obsession over Jerusalem (and within Iran’s state), likewise from some quarters of the US – not surprisingly US hostility towards Iran is also Israel-centric.

    Iran and the US have had shared interests for quite some time, particularly on tackling Sunni Islamist militants, especially since the Afghanistan occupation – and the US slowly realizing (even years into the Iraq invasion they were clueless on who or what linked groups and states hated them) the frenemy status with former allies from KSA to Pakistan, and not just their populations. But the ‘radicals’ and ‘imperialists’ rhetoric has had them stuck in aggression (literally attacking or killing one another or backing groups that do, or against their interests), and I’d say more so the US, quite literally war criminally supporting Saddam against Iran then wrecking Iraq, though Shiites don’t necessarily help themselves by being anti-US instead of pro-actively softly appealing on some issues (like Bahrain) to some reasonable US or global audience, even if thick headed.

  12. I’ve been telling people for years. The US and Iran are natural allies, in so many ways, on so many levels. It will take people with courage, like Professor Cole, to stand up and say it with conviction and make people see the light, that this is the only way forward.

    • Dear Ted, several years back, 2 pollsters who conducted a survey showing most Iranians want good relations with the West were imprisoned by the ruling Islamist authorities. What exactly can one do inside a regime that is the world’s leading executioner and kills people for “waging war against God”? And BTW, that regime is virulently anti-American and has made “Death to America” its mantra.

  13. Spyguy’s last paragraph would make sense if politics were rational.

    But since they are not I really can’t pass up the opportunity to blame Obama. What’s needed is clear vision, a steady hand, and a steely eye. No wimping. And Obama has a unique chance to do exactly that by coptering the Bush Cheney negotiating team right into downtown Baghdad in one of Barak’s new choppers. With G&D involved again the Republicans could not help but endorse such a bold initiative, with the Democrats trailing behind saying whatever Dems say when trailing behind. Chances are a big chunk of the Tea Party would sign on too which would amount to a global rapprochment not seen since Nixon walked the Big Wall. I personally would like to see Iraq turn around, and from Dick C’s tv interviews since he moved his operations out of DC, I’m sure he’s just itching to get into the thick of things again and show those naysayers how it’s done one more time.

  14. Che macello! It’s a Machiavellian mess! The Americans hate the Iranians in part because the Israelis hate and fear the Iranians. And the US opposes Iran-backed Assad in Syria. But we favor Iran-backed Alawi in Iraq. We favor the Syrian rebels, who are Sunnis, allied with Sunni extremists in Iraq, who we now dislike. The American public doesn’t understand any of this (but hates the Iranians reflexively anyway). The American government seems to be planning to attack both pro and anti-Iranian groups, which will either please, anger, or simply confuse Iran. Meanwhile, Netanyahu looks on and glowers at everybody. Won’t somebody make up their minds??

  15. In the run-up to the destruction of Iraq, the US/UK governments told the world that, in addition to WMDs, there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, in some instances intimating that Saddam Hussein was involved on the September 11th attacks. The US/UK destroy the infrastructure of the country in a bombing campaign. There is no post-war planning. No electricity. No water. The army is disbanded. Complete chaos. (Apparently this is not the fault of the war leaders; rather “freedom’s untidy”.) The US military and private contractors commit abuses. Prisoners are tortured and sexually humiliated. Crowds of protestors come under fire. Sunnis are left out of the political process. The US/UK Iraqi leaders of choice are corrupt and incompetent. Unions are banned. Foreign fighters flood the country. Iraqis take up arms. Abu Dua, an Iraqi preacher, sets up a militia to resist the invaders. (Dua is later captured and spends 4-5 years as a US prisoner.) Sadr calls for an immediate withdrawal of US/UK forces and condemns the CPA. The Mahdi Army and Sunni rebels engage US/UK forces in Basra, Najaf, Ramadi, Fallujah, and other cities. Zarqawi and AQI engage in a terror campaign that causes pause even amongst Al-Qaeda command. Zarqawi is killed. The Golden Dome is bombed. A vicious civil war breaks out. The Shi’ites win. Iraqi cities are divided into fortified neighborhoods run by criminal syndicates. Sadr cannot even control his own fighters; they are told to stand down. Later they go on to engage in a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. The Sunnis realize their mistake and are brought into the political fold; some militias are paid off; others join with the US to form assassination squads. No political reconciliation occurs. AQI is in decline; Abu Dua takes over. The date for withdrawal of US forces approaches; Obama attempts to gain immunity for US soldiers so that troops can remain. He is rebuffed. The Iraqi government cannot provide power or water or security. Iraqi security forces engage in torture and kidnappings. There is a paucity of health care professionals. The country is a mess. (9000+ die from terrorism in 2013. 2014 averages over 1000+ a month. But fear not Bush, Blair, Hitchens, Cohen et al will be vindicated by history.) AQI has evaporated. ISIS forms; led by Abu Dua. Al-Nusra forms. Both enter the Syria. Libyan fighters in Iraq return home and join the rebels opposing Qaddafi. (West Point study confirms that per capita the most foreign fighters in Iraq came from Libya.) NATO is authorized by the UN to implement a no-fly zone in Libya and ensure that no massacre of Libyan civilians takes place. NATO bombs Libya for 7 months. Qaddafi is killed. Libya is controlled by some 1500 militias. 240000 militiamen roam the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi; they are on the government payroll but are loyal to their commanders. NATO refuses to investigate civilian deaths as a result of their 7-month bombing campaign. US embassy in Benghazi is attacked. NATO disassociates itself completely from Libya. Libya stands on the brink of civil war. The Syrian Civil War escalates; Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia back Assad; Turkey, the Gulf dictatorships, and the US support the rebels – FSA, blue collar Syrians, and moderate Islamists. Al-Qaeda confirms Al-Nusra as its official affiliate and breaks ties with ISIS. The US assists the Gulf dictatorships in supplying arms to the moderate Islamists. Assad concentrates on the FSA and blue collar groups. The Islamists fight amongst each other. Sarin gas is used against Syrian civilians. The majority of intelligence agencies, experts, NGOs point to Assad’s forces. Obama concludes red line has been crossed. US intelligence leaks put into question Obama’s claim that Assad is to blame. Further leaks confirm that the Pentagon does not want to enter the Syrian conflict. David Cameron loses a motion in the British House of Commons authorizing the use of force against Assad’s regime. Russia convinces Assad to give op chemical stockpile. ISIS makes gains in Syria. The US expresses concerns that the Saudis, Bandar Bush in particular, have lost control of the situation in Syria. (This assumes they ever had control to begin with.) The FSA is a spent force. The moderate Islamist coalition – the Islamic Front – exists in name only. Arms meant for the Islamic Front end up in the hands of Al-Nusra and ISIS. ISIS controls a swath of land in Iraq and Syria the size of England. ISIS makes incredible gains in Iraq. The US considers re-entering the Iraqi arena.

    At what point will Americans reign in control of their leaders and military? All this misery and death has been justified in your names (Joe Klein, a liberal mind you, claimed it’s either American babies or their babies) and using your money? Those of us who are secular, progressive Muslims (disclaimer: I am an atheist) are finding it incredibly difficult to stem the tide of anti-Americanism. We need your help. Even the Iraqi Communist Party supported the invasion partly because of what they saw as the impotence of the left to influence events in the West. (They opposed the principle. And they opposed Bush. But they accepted the reality of the invasion. And even then there was a split in the party. Hitchen’s always misrepresented their position.)

    Even if one removes the moral component for a moment and examines this purely from the perspective of empire (or imperialism of hegemony or whatever): what are the power elite in the United States doing?

    • The power elite in the USA are too lazy and lacking discipline and in a sense of entitlement, they don’t have any values, which is why they are always losing the political struggle so they always have to use war as a way to hold on and hopefully create enough fog to turn back the clock.
      As Mitt Romney said, arrogantly thinking he was talking about other people rather than himself, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”.

  16. Very informative. Keep up the great work.

    That said, a blog post about the friction between the more fundamentalist Islamic authorities (Khamenei) & the more pluralistic ones (Rouhani) would be really appreciated. Iran would be a much easier sell to the American public as well as Washington as a “Natural Ally” if it took a few steps toward religious universalism. And from time to time, there are reports of verbal dust-ups between the two sides inside of Iran. I figure Professor Cole would do a great job, as he usually does, explaining the state of the detente between the sides or whether the is a looming confrontation between the sides approaching instead.

  17. link to bbc.com

    A deeper article about Kurdish aspirations from the situation and relations with the tribal and former military Iraqi Sunnis (MCIR) in the insurgency, and the partnerships of local Sunni militants and groups with ISIS, and differences and divisions within themselves (AMC) but on the whole on the same side and support the insurgency, with few tribal Sunnis and Sunni commanders opposed to ISIS, one of whom sounded desperate for US and British help or at least air strikes.

  18. “What if they gave a war and…America came and fought for both sides? Awesome. A war that America can’t lose…and America can’t win. All at the same time! This ought to be the ideal war for the neo-cons. Maybe it could even count as two wars? Viva America and war!

  19. How long before we see Syrian Army-USA cooperation, in the form of a thrust towards Raqqah, to weaken the ISIS advance by attacking from behind???

  20. This is confusing because the US is physically supporting both sides. I would suggest the plan is a partition of Iraq into 3 parts, something, for example, Biden recommended when he was running for president. I think what is going on is fully CIA-approved and represents their ‘divide and rule’ strategy for Iraq and Syria. If anything, the ‘Sunni state’ will be a base for the US to continue to wage war on Syria.

      • >>US policy has been in favor of a united Iraq on the whole, Mr Biden excepted.<<

        That is doubtful. First, the word 'policy' is rather a strange way to characterize the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq. Second, the US has encouraged Kurdish independence–even before the invasion. Third, the US played Sunni off against the Sadrists to defeat the resistance during the occupation. Fourth, the US saddled occupied Iraq with a weak federal structure.

        So while official statements might indicate they supported a united Iraq, their ACTIONS clearly did not.

        • I remember about the Salvador Option for Iraq, so I went and looked it up, I am surprised to see that the officials who had bragged about how effective it was going to be at the time, are now denying they used it and saying it was just an idea by a couple of guys. They said the Salvador Option was going to be used against Sunni militias, but they were more excited about killing the Sadrists, so it seemed like a plan to work the Sunnis against the Sadrists.

  21. This analysis rests on the naive assumption that the US (and Israel) would be unhappy about a Shia-Sunni war

  22. After Reagan aiding Saddam and the coup in 1953, Iran would be VERY foolish to ever trust the American government. Our spooks will find out all about their nuclear program and stab them in the back at the first opportunity.

    That’s how we roll and Iran knows it.

  23. Someone correct me if I am wrong but weren’t those chaps that McCain took pics with in Syria ISIS fellas? I recall that some of those anti Assad fighters in that photo opp were fingered as having been involved in kidnappings

  24. I have a recollection from around 2002 when grease was being poured on the skids to war on Iraq with Condi evoking mushroom clouds and Judith Miller at the NYT warning about Saddam’s WMDs there were contrarians warning that something like this might happen if the US invaded Iraq.

  25. From here I regard the destruction sad for humanity is defined by its art more than its weaponry. But here in the US I want to see Monuments to and of the CSA knocked over and blood patina painted. Transcendia as a nation of airports is against WMDs so suicide bombing threats mean that side that uses that tactic is to be attacked above or below ground for international security. Such is it all that allies are necessary.

  26. Iraq was acting like they wanted help from USA yesterday, today the news is saying Iraq probably doesn’t need help. The Shiites and the Kurds can hold their territory. If Iraq wanted help the logical place to go for help would be Iran. I speculate that maybe the Iraqis never really wanted the USA to help, they were probably pressured to ask for help.

  27. What airpower is available to the Iraq government? What uses has it been put to? In Afghanistan it seemed that they didn’t have pilots and had sent money down a corruption rat hole that was intended for airpower. If legal hashish was showing in Washington and Colorado for Afghani forces protecting women, wow, that would be unusually nice. The NYC pot market is one that would pay for a Falcon 50 run back and forth in my fantasies. But what about atom bombs? where was I?

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