U.S. Sidelined as Iraq Becomes Bloodier

The 2003 invasion helped sow the seeds for an incipient civil war.

  • Share
  • Read Later

The U.S. invaded Iraq 3,802 days — and 4,486 American lives — ago. As Iraq moves ever closer to civil war — 1,057 died there last month, the highest toll in five years, with more than 100 perishing in nationwide bombings since last weekend — the U.S. basically can do little to quell the violence its invasion a decade ago helped make possible.

The U.S. government said the weekend attacks were likely the work of al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, exploiting ancient tensions between Islam’s Sunni and Shi‘ite sects. Once again, it announced the existence of a $10 million bounty for information leading to the killing or capture of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Sunni leader of the local al-Qaeda franchise.

For sure, there will be diplomacy. “We have close counterterrorism cooperation with the Iraqi government,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday. But because of its enforced sidelining, the U.S. can do little to actually try to end the violence. Then Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2008 that he expected to see “several tens of thousands of American troops” in Iraq in 2012 and beyond to train Iraqi troops and combat terrorism. But the inability of the U.S. and Iraq to reach a deal regarding legal protections for U.S. troops in Iraq post-2011 led to their departure.

(MORE: Iraq’s Sectarian Violence: Bombings Plunge Country Into Deadly Spiral)

American standoffishness makes sense for two reasons: that inability to strike a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi government for a continuing U.S. troop presence inside the country leaves the U.S. government and the Pentagon with scant clout. Just as important, the U.S. and its leaders have even less interest in becoming reinvolved.

If only it were solely their call.

The U.S. tolerated — used might be a better term — Saddam Hussein for years, until his murderous ways bled into Kuwait. That Iraqi overreach led the U.S. to force his troops back home in 1991. Twelve years later — amid rumors that Saddam had it in for the U.S. with (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction — the U.S. invaded Iraq. A new Iraqi government executed him in 2006, and removed the lone strongman apparently able to hold the state together, albeit with torture, executions of his own and chemical weapons used on his own citizens.

In hindsight, the lesson seems to be clear: if you want the U.S. to leave you alone, you can be pretty much as brutal as you want inside your borders. But cross them at your peril. The flip side is true, as well: invaders may find they are grappling with more than they bargained for when — by dint of history, happenstance or ignorance — their foes spread beyond the frontiers of the invaded state.

That’s the fundamental challenge posed by these so-called “nonstate actors” in places like Iraq.

“This is a regional conflict that stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad,” Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the Syrian civil war on Monday in Israel. “It is the unleashing of historic ethnic, religious and tribal animosities that will take a great deal of work and a great deal of time to resolve.”

(MORE: What Bush Got Right on Iraq — and What Obama Can Learn From It)

Baghdad? The capital of the nation the U.S. recently fought to liberate? Attacking a single country rived by sectarian battles that spill over its borders can be likened to taking a swat at a hornets’ nest and irritating those inside. Or akin to spreading cancer by operating to excise it.

Even active-duty U.S. military officers who fought there have growing doubts. “During the American occupation in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, as many as 250,000 Iraqis died and 1.4 million were displaced. Nearly 5,000 members of the American military were killed, with many thousands more suffering life-altering wounds, both physical and mental,” Army Colonel Gian Gentile wrote on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. “By most estimates, the United States has spent about $3 trillion on its nation-building efforts. What has this huge investment of blood and treasure achieved? Iraq is still mired in low-grade civil war, with worrisome indications that it is escalating.”

The U.S. has been down this path, in this country, before. The U.S. used Saddam for its own ends — largely to counter Iran — until Washington believed his megalomania threatened U.S. interests beyond his state.

That was the green light for U.S. involvement. When the U.S. pulled out of Iraq after nearly nine years of occupation, it declared al-Qaeda in Iraq on the run. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq is still operating, although at a much lower level,” President Obama said in December 2011 as the last U.S. troops headed home from Iraq.

Which makes the lead story in Tuesday’s Washington Post — “Al-Qaeda’s Iraq Affiliate Expands Presence in Syria” — all the more chilling. It suggests that the U.S.’s fervent wish to be done with Iraq doesn’t mean that Iraq is done with the U.S.

MORE: Trying to Put Iraq Back Together

218 comments
orbital303
orbital303

Is this a surprise? The last war the US won even with all our "allies" was WWII. Come to think of it, that was the last war we fought legally. 

The US goal for civil war and unrest in the region has indeed been achieved. Too bad the author has no clue as to what that goal is even though he's writing about it. 

Regio121
Regio121

Removing Saddam Hussein under false argument and accusations cost not trillions, but the most important credibility and loyalty from middle east, US need to act fast and stop all type of financial aid to all middle east nations immediately if wants to retain some type confidentiality and assistance from existent allies. otherwise Al-Qaeda will win these war by financially bleeding the USA.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

When is the American political class going to learn? The innumerable interventions of the USA in the foreign affairs of foreign countries, has brought only suffering to those people being liberated. Here is a brutal example, Iraq, of this continuous meddling, for American self interests, in other sovereign countries.

There is no need to write the names of all the places where this has been a fact. But where the hypocrisy is at its almost absolute is when the USA deals with Syria and Egypt. In Syria, the American establishment wants the head of Assad at all costs, and this includes supporting and supplying arms to the terrorists that still are killing young Americans in Afghanistan. Can you explain the hatred of the Americans for Assad , or is just a political move to please the Israelis? I can go deeper into this, but there is no point in doing so. Now, there was a democratic election in Egypt where a majority voted for a muslim as its president. But the losers, instead of waiting for their term in another election ( I think that's the way in which democracy works) they brought the military for a COUP D'ETAT  and these patriots are killing the winners of the democracy game, because they are complaining that their government is legitimate and should let them finish their democratic term. But here comes the peachy thing from the big daddy of democracies: they supported the COUP AND HAVE SAID NOTHING ABOUT THE MASSACRE. Even more, they haven't suspended the free aid to the military.

  Where is the moral of THE USA IN FRONT OF THE WORLD?  What precedent, the USA, is proclaiming to the world? One excuse could have been was the MB was assassinating its secular compatriots. But no, they just wanted some religious laws enacted by the majority of its parliament. Is this an excuse to overthrew a government and to massacre its supporters?

jimmy.chy1948
jimmy.chy1948

Looks like the American oil companies do not need Iraqi oil any more.The Iraqis can go to hell for all they care.

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

All this was predictable (and I did)  before the first boot was misplaced on the ground by the murderous Bush regime. It is like a Greek drama watching American self destruction run its course.

drudown
drudown

And what, pray tell, exactly is the logical inference to take away from this "news"? That the US taxpayers are somehow "on the hook" if citizens of a Foreign Sovereign want to kill each other on account of over a thousand years of secular/religious conflict that preceded the Bush Administration's invasion under false pretenses? What a farce.

Our government is one of Limited Powers and I have yet to meet a single member of the "strict constructionist" GOP party that can identify the pertinent provision in our Constitution that grants our Congress or Executive branch the self-perceived authority to unilaterally divert OUR TAX DOLLARS to futilely enforce a Police Power over a sovereign (Iraq) in which 85% of all Iraqis "voted" for our troops to leave immediately. Pity the Media conditions the People to believe, what, we should "cut Food Stamps at home to keep Iraqis (or Syrians or Egyptians) from killing each other? That is just absurd.

Whatever promises and predictions the Bush Administration made about "liberating" Iraq have been proven false. It is time to cut bait. There is no discernible or tangible benefit to the People pissing away our limited resources on Iraq- much less "arming and training" their puppet "security forces" that use these weapons to kill our own troops. 

"Thy love afar is spite at home." - Emerson

segesta65
segesta65

Ah, if only we hadn't invaded Iraq... today we could be watching a nuclear arms race between the Sunni terrorist regime in Iran and the Baath terrorist regime in Iraq. 

But I'm certain Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry would have been up to that task. They would have blamed Israeli settlements.

pardonme
pardonme

Ah success! The result desired by this administration as there is no other way to explain their actions which is the only way you can judge them; certainly not by their words since the two never match.

paulejb
paulejb

Is there any left wing drone here with the courage to explain this utterance?

"I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government."  (Emphasis mine)

Joe Biden


paulejb
paulejb

Saddam Hussein was in bed with al-Qaeda. Hillary told us so.

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
-- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

jmac
jmac

@HazeAndDrizzle  There definitely were many saying that the secular Hussein kept those three religions in line with an iron hand.  He kept al Qaeda out with his private Army and anybody that watched India after the British left could have predicted what was going to happen.

Conservative constantly quote on their blogs that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it - as they ignore history and repeat it.   It's going to happen with the banks as they fight against any regulation.  They are basically deaf, dumb and blind.  And no one was deafer, dumber and blinder than Bush - on the economy, on Iraq and on his paper of choice, The WAshington Times.    

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

@segesta65 No stupid, we had Saddam in a bottle where he was of maximum use to us. We had sensors and experts on the ground doing an excellent job with the IAEA and the UN. Had Gore won, we would be prosperous, safe, and not involved with the worst entanglements possible. You neocons brought your own truth denying doom on yourselves. Own up to your own war crimes.

drudown
drudown

@segesta65

Ps. there is no need to even engage in such post hoc speculation as to whether "[President] Obama and [Secretary of State] Kerry  would have been up for" your unfounded hypothetical. You and the GOP need to take ownership of Iraq and the $4 TRILLION it cost us. 

What, surely you cannot credibly contend that a WMD-less Saddam was worth it? That the "Bush Doctrine" did not destabilize the entire Middle East? 'Heck of a job' in your geopolitical hypotheticals...pity the People are footing the bill for Halliburton's no-bid multi-billion contract to "rebuild" what its CEO destroyed under the color of US Diplomacy.

Accordingly, a better "question" is why Cheney's own company received a multi-billion windfall from invading a country he lied about having nuclear weapons? That is like a lawyer drafting his own family into the client's will.

"After the event, even the fool is wise." - Viscount Symonds

drudown
drudown

@segesta65 

What a joke. 

Do you not remember Iraq was under strict UN Sanctions and, as such, the entire WMD/nuclear threat was a hoax? 

Keep shaking your "they are going to get nukes" rattle to justify basic War profiteering. 

drudown
drudown

@pardonme 

You managed to say nothing substantive trying to sound clever. Reconcile such conclusory babble with their GOP predecessor. 

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@paulejb How many more americans has to be killed by the LIBERATED IRAQUIES before people like you realize that what Bush did was futile and illegal? Did you already forget who put the USA in this mess with lies and false witnesses?  The war in Iraq only brought suffering and death to the Iraqi people and a lot of death and maiming to the young American soldiers, that were duped to believe that they were fightinf to defend their country, the USA.

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

@paulejb Eventually you have to withdraw from a war that was lost before the first boot hit the ground. American was doomed by its own ignorance and blindness to merely be yet another contributor to a cruel outcome. Biden merely finished the blunder and war crimes that Cheney started.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@paulejb Protecting American lives is an achievement. If you don't like it, fly back yourself.


mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb He was wrong. But the idiot that created the situation in the first place makes him look like a genius.

paulejb
paulejb

@mantisdragon91 

George Tenet, Clinton's Director of the CIA, told George W Bush that WMD in Iraq was a "slam dunk."

Case closed.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb  Lets not forget the heroic work of Ahmed Chalabi and Judith Miller. Lest we forget, the environment around the Iraq debate approached insanity. There's plenty of blame to go around but spreading it out doesn't make it go away. GWB is personally responsible for untold carnage.

drudown
drudown

@paulejb @PaulDirks 

Btw, who pays you to post here? I'm serious. Are you a lobbyist or in PR?

Why don't you watch the documentary 'Gasland' and celebrate your gift to the world.

drudown
drudown

@paulejb @PaulDirks 

No, everybody knows you are a partisan hack with no love for America- like your false GOP idols- you would sell out your own kin, which you did by sending young men and women to die in Iraq...over a lie. 

So why don't spare us the BS and just continue to be "that guy."

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@paulejb @PaulDirks If your so why worried about Iraq, why don't you fly there yourself. Oh that's right. You don't actually give a rat$ a$$ about Iraq. You don't give a rat$ a$$ about the safety of American soldiers. You don't particularly love your country. All you love is your RW lying scumbag sites. Here's a clue. If you think the WMD's went to Syria then you are a gullible moron.


HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

@Realworldnonfantasyland @paulejb @mantisdragon91 What do you know. So did we. Killed well over a quarter million people, displaced three or four million, for what? So Christians could stick it to Muslims. Strange thing is that we decimated Christian communities older than the Catholic Church (Emperor Constantine style).

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

@paulejb @mantisdragon91 No idiot. The Surge was three years, three years, and three war commanders into a war that was lost before it began. It was a war of aggression that should never have been started.

manlyman
manlyman

Enough of your feigned concern for human life manindrag. As a matter of fact enough of you period. Go away, and take that wacked out leftwing nutbag drudown with you. Damn your silly babblings are getting old!

paulejb
paulejb

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb 

Surge? 2007? Exceeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams according to Obama? Is that starting to ring a bell, Bugs?

manlyman
manlyman

Sounds like my exwife. Lying was a hobby.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@paulejb @PaulDirks @mantisdragon91 The number of heroes who opposed the war were quite small. They are nevertheless heroes. Your quoting Democrats who believed the lies that were used to sell the war does nothing to mitigate your evil in supporting the invasion. 

paulejb
paulejb

@PaulDirks @mantisdragon91 @paulejb

More left wing bulls**t from stooges with short memories.


"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force -- if necessary -- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security."
-- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
-- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
-- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
-- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manlyman Prove they lied. Did we find the WMDs they claimed Saddam had. No. Then they lied. Thanks for playing now go away.

manlyman
manlyman

Verify manindrag! Or stfu!

manlyman
manlyman

Prove that they lied manindrag. Or shut the hell up.

pardonme
pardonme

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb Just which intelligence service in the world disputed the claims? Which democrats disputed the intelligence? Who really stood against the intelligence and don't tell me they all were duped by GWB.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb @mantisdragon91 Doesn't really change the fact that Kerry like the rest of us were lied to in order to secure a war Bush wanted the moment he was elected. Sad how you seem to ignore that easily verified fact.

paulejb
paulejb

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime ... He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction ... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real..."
-- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

Kerry was your standard bearer in 2004. He was for the war before he was against it.

paulejb
paulejb

@mantisdragon91 @paulejb 

I'll type slowly so that you can keep up, Bugs.

We were discussing alleged presidential lies. I provided a sample of a proven presidential lie.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb @mantisdragon91 You are an idiot and a troll. What exactly does Bill Clinton have to do with a possible Civil War in Iraq? I might as well start posting videos of Reagan lying about Iran Contra.