Top Ten Reasons the US should Stay out of Iraq and put Conditions on Arms Sales

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq 2003-2011 threw that country into civil war and long-term guerrilla insurgency. Once an insurgency begins, it often lasts 15 years, so Iraq may well not settle down for another decade. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington yesterday asking for a substantial increase in military aid, including nice big shiny new weapons and trainers. As usual when the increased violence in Iraq comes up, some journalists and politicians hinted around that maybe it was a mistake to withdraw in 2011 or even that maybe the US should go back in.

VOA reports on Maliki’s visit:

So here are the top ten reasons a) the US should stay out of Iraq and b) should put conditions on any arms sales it makes to Nouri al-Maliki:

1. The US caused the civil war and guerrilla war in the first place, and can’t fix it now. If both kinds of war could get started when the country was under US occupation, with as many as 160,000 troops in country, why would things be different? Under US rule, sometimes 3,000 Iraqi civilians were dying a month. why does anyone think a small force of US troops could make a difference at the moment? Moreover, the Iraqi parliament would never agree to any significant number of US troops on Iraqi soil, and nor would it offer them immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for war crimes. Therefore, Washington is not sending combat troops back in and Iraq would not accept them. Someone to train pilots in flying Black Hawks is a different matter.

2. The insurgency in Iraq is brutal and heart-breaking, but it isn’t unique in the world. Just last year, over 18,000 Mexicans died in their drug war through November 2012! It is estimated that so far in 2013 about 7,000 Iraqis have died in political violence. No one is suggesting that US troops should go into Mexico or that they would be effective if they did. Why this fixation on American intervention in the Middle East? (Mexico also has oil, so that isn’t the difference). Maybe it is just that Mexico is a relatively strong country with the world’s 14th largest gross domestic product and a population of 112 million. In contrast, Iraq is a small country of 32 million with the world’s 46th largest gdp, so maybe hawks in Washington think it can still be pushed around.

3. The US is still militarily occupying Afghanistan, and it had over 8,000 fatalities in 2012! (Iraq’s 2012 total civilian fatalities in political violence were about 4,500). If that is the best Washington can do when they are running the place, how likely is it they can be effective with a small force from the outside?

4. Washington doesn’t want to intervene in Syria, where there were over 41,000 casualties in 2012.

5. The US is de facto allied with the rebels in Syria against the Baath government of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Those rebels are largely Sunni Arabs, and the majority of land not under regime control in northern Syria is now held by radical extremists. These same radical extremist Sunni forces are the ones blowing up Shiites in Iraq. In short, in Iraqi terms the US is part of the problem, not of the solution, and cannot be an honest broker.

6. Part of the reason for the continued Sunni guerrilla war in Iraq is that Sunni Arabs there aren’t informing against the radical extremists in their midst. They aren’t informing because they mostly hate the government of al-Maliki, which they see as Shiite chauvinist and allied to Iran. Al-Maliki has done nothing to change this perception. He charged Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a major Sunni figure with terrorism and forced him into exile.

7. The Republican senators who charge al-Maliki with leading the country to civil war, however, are being dishonest. Most of them led Iraq to civil war in 2006 in the first place, by bad policy-making after the fall of Saddam Hussein involving firing tens of thousands of Sunnis from their jobs and favoring Shiites and Kurds. They were the biggest screw-up in the history of American foreign policy and are not in a position to criticize anyone, including al-Maliki.

8. Journalists keep speculating that Iraq is headed back to civil war. It is not. The Civil War in 2006 was an ethnic cleansing of mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. That process is over. The neighborhoods have been altered, into being mostly Sunni or mostly Shiite. There is no one local left to fight. There are no Sunni brigades marching conventionally and trying to take territory against the largely Shiite military, which is relatively well-equipped with US weaponry and would easily defeat them. It isn’t a civil war this time but a low-intensity conflict, a guerrilla war, in which the weapon is shadowy bombings and sniping. Only 20% of insurgencies typically are defeated by military action, so the likelihood that the US can do anything about this one is very low.

9. If the US is going to give weapons to al-Maliki, it must put in place conditions and monitoring to ensure that they don’t end up going to al-Maliki’s de facto ally, the Syrian regime. The ability of Washington to undermine its own policies is mind-boggling.

10. Moreover, al-Maliki has to do more to reach out to the civilian Sunni leadership in Mosul and Ramadi and incorporate them as equals into the new Iraqi politics. He hasn’t done that and Iraq won’t settle down until he or his successor act in this way.

12 Responses

  1. Professor, dare one ask why “giving” or “selling” weapons to al Maliki’s set is even up for discussion? How much evidence is needed that adding arms to the witch’s brew in that part of the world is simply not subject to any realistic “conditions” or “controls” or monitoring? And that the Game Play that is one strand of the warping and subjugation of so many to the whims and profits of a little set of Overlords and self-serving Idiots is not any kind of “progress?”

    Of course the Gamers say, like little kids talking Mom into letting them jump off that bridge, “Everyone else is doing it! If I don’t, someone else will!”

    This crap is part of why the planet is in such sorry shape – farmers and gardeners, even ones driven by profit, usually take great care of the bits of the planet over which they exercise “dominion”: why does that wisdom never spread to the Tapeworms and tumor cells that infest and are killing us and our little habitable patch of the cosmos?

  2. In his Op-Ed in New York Times, Prime Minister Maliki said that his country needed air defense capabilities in order to defend itself against “better-armed neighbors”. link to
    At the moment, Iraq is not facing a conventional war by any of her neighbors, but Iraq is facing a deadly insurgency with over 7,000 killed this year alone, the worst figure for the past five years. It is clear that the insurgency is not totally home-grown but is part of the regional Sunni uprising and an extension of “the Islamic Emirate of Sham and Iraq”, in other words a militant Sunni state covering both Syria and Iraq and extending to Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf littoral states. The success of these terrorist groups is not in anyone’s interest. While Iraq does not need sophisticated fighter aircraft, it certainly can do with helicopters and other equipment to stem the tide of the militant Salafis and other jihadists pouring in from Syria.

    The United States – or rather the Bush Administration – was certainly the cause of the civil war, but after all the sacrifices in lives and treasure, the United States should make sure that Iraq does not become another failed state like Somalia or increasingly Syria. As Maliki said in his Op-Ed, Iraq is not a US protectorate but a partner. Many people in the Congress may feel bad that Iraq did not allow US forces to remain in Iraq, but their misplaced anger should not prevent the United States from being on friendly terms with an independent Iraq and help it develop into a more democratic state than it actually is at present. Some may say that after the suffering that the United States has caused Iraq over the past few decades it actually owes her as much.

    • Iraq and “the US” are “partners”? By what stretch of language could this possibly be asserted? Maybe people in the US, including that Congress thing, see the futility of throwing more good money and more weapons after stupid and corrupt and bad, with about zero chance of any positive return.

      But Maliki and many who have marked the same path know the Imperial ropes, the ones used to separate the Game from anything looking remotely like the general welfare. Anyone for another “Charlie Wilson’s War?”

    • The United States – or rather the Bush Administration – was certainly the cause of the civil war, but after all the sacrifices in lives and treasure, the United States should make sure that Iraq does not become another failed state like Somalia or increasingly Syria.

      A lot of people made this argument back in 2006-2009, about the possibility of American withdrawal: that Iraq would become a failed state, and al Qaeda would be able to establish a safe haven there.

      If you look back over history, though, Iraq (and its predecessor states) were never weak or failed states that were unable to exert sovereign power of their territory. Quite the opposite, they problem there has been very strong, even totalitarian, states. The only exceptions to this tendency have come when a foreign occupier attempted to govern.

      I don’t think American boots or operations would make the county any safer.

  3. You can give a thousand reasons why the US should stay out of Iraq and put conditions on arms sales, but if there is something in it for the military-industrial-security complex the US “government” will do what it is told to do and facilitate more business for the agents of death and destruction.

    • excellent point about who is running the show

      and if they are running the show, are there adults in the room that realize at least what is in this article by Juan today?

      as Jeremy Scahill points out, no way to end the war on terror so arms dealers have a continuing market

  4. To what extent is the recent uptick in violence in Iraq attributable to Al-Qaeda-linked militants or, on the other hand, to deposed Baathists and ex-military figures? Have the two patched up their differences since the Awakening Councils turned on Al-Qaeda or is this a case of every possible Sunni insurgent taking advantage of popular discontent with Pres. Maliki’s “Shiite chauvinism”? Is differentiating between groupings of insurgents of practical importance at this point? Or is it too early to answer these questions with much certainty?

    • I second these questions.

      To what extent is this a repeat of 2004-2005, when foreign jihadis carried out a campaign of anti-Shiite terror for the purpose of provoking a civil war?

  5. “We need an adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security.”

    This is a quote from Gen. Eisenhower in the 60s. The defense budget for this year, at least what they admit to, is somewhere around 680 billion dollars, four times that spent by China, the country with the next largest military budget. Couldn’t we reduce that to twice as much as China is spending and still be able to defend ourselves?

    As long as we have this kind of war machine the neocons will use it to achieve their goals rather than those of peace keeping. As Sec. Albright once said…”Why have this marvelous military if you don’t use it?”

    • Misquote: what she said was “Can’t use it.”

      She was responding to being told that it would take months to get Abrams tanks from Germany into Bosnia in order to provide the protection necessary to set up bases for helicopters there.

      She was complaining about how slow and cumbersome the American military was.

  6. “The defense budget for this year, at least what they admit to, is somewhere around 680 billion dollars, four times that spent by China, the country with the next largest military budget. Couldn’t we reduce that to twice as much as China is spending and still be able to defend ourselves?”

    Given the fact that the Pentagon’s budgets were many times more than Hanoi’s, Iraq’s and the Taliban’s but our department of war was still unable to prevail over them, we can only hope Obama doesn’t become or is followed by a megalomaniacal lunatic who even contemplates a military conflict with China. The same goes for those perennial warmongers in Congress.

    But we din “win” in Grenada.

    Also bear in mind if we get into a shooting match with China we won’t be able to count on them to sell us spare parts when our exorbitantly priced weaponry starts to break down.

  7. @4: “Washington does not want to intervene in Syria…..”

    In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised internationally to support various rebel factions in Syria and much of that total emanates from America.

    One of the larger fund-raising entities is the Syrian Support Group (, a Washington D.C.-based entity, chaired by a Chicago attorney who is a former student of Juan Cole. That organization is licensed by the State Department to raise funds from the public for non-lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army. It has been the implementing NGO for millions of dollars in State Department funding for the Free Syrian Army and has acted as a key liaison between FSA leaders and the State Department. The SSG has raised hundreds of donations from a broad cross-section of Americans and its chairman appeared on National Public Radio with Senator John Mc Cain.

    U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford issued a letter on State Dpartment letterhead this April applauding the SSG for their efforts .

Comments are closed.