After almost a century of existence, the borders that form the modern Mideast nation states appear to be on the verge of disintegration. Part of the driving force behind this meltdown, as observers are beginning to acknowledge, is of course the intractable sectarian war in Syria. But a far bigger part of the picture is the accelerating destabilization of Iraq. The breakdown of Iraq, with its far-reaching regional ramifications, is attributable in no small part to President Obama’s abandonment of the U.S.’s mission in the country, a betrayal committed in total defiance of the military establishment’s recommendations, which squandered the hard-won victory handed down by President Bush. As predicted, our precipitous withdrawal has left the once pacified nation riven with sectarian strife, primarily among Sunni and Shia Muslims and the Kurds. As the region descends, the consequences of Obama’s folly are only becoming more obvious: a nation that once stood a chance at being a source of stability in the region is instead rapidly becoming its maelstrom.
In 1916, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France signed a secret agreement, with Russia’s approval, to dissolve the Ottoman Empire. The … artificial borders of five countries were established. In the ensuing years, two critical realities were also realized: in Syria, the Alawite minority, the sect to which current president Bashar Assad belongs, was granted power over the Sunni majority. In Iraq, the Sunni minority was empowered at the expense of the Shi’ite majority. In other words, borders created to satisfy European sensibilities largely ignored the realities of historic ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions. …
It is those divisions that are now asserting themselves….
The most likely outcome of that fighting is a stalemate leading to the breakup of Syria into three mini-states, respectively controlled by Kurds, Sunnis and Alawites. Since most of the Alawites live in the coastal corridor that includes Damascus, even this seemingly chaotic scenario accrues to Russian interests. They maintain an influence in the region, and they will still have their naval base in Tartous.
On the Iraqi side of the border, the developments are even more ominous. Despite being largely ignored by the American media, the disintegration of Iraq is continuing rapidly. The deaths of 700 Iraqis killed in sectarian violence throughout the country in April represent the largest number of casualties in the last five years. In the northern part of Iraq, the province of Iraqi Kurdistan has, for all intents and purposes, dissolved its ties with the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. They are in the process of cutting autonomous deals with international oil companies, and next September a new pipeline will carry oil from Kurdistan to Turkey linking them to their Kurdish brethren in that region. In the process they have ignored U.S. opposition to any oil exports “without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi federal government.”
Iraqi Sunnis, who held a vise-like grip on power during the days of Saddam Hussein, have little incentive to remain united with the current government either. In late April, after Iraqi Security Forces opened fire on Sunni protesters in Hawija, Kirkuk, killing 20 and wounding over 100, Sunni tribal militia began mobilizing against the government. Several clashes between the ISF and the militias have taken place, with thousands of tribe members in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din vowing to seek revenge. …
Furthermore, the efforts of Sunni leaders to maintain ties to the Maliki government have undermined their credibility with their constituents, who see them as sellouts to a regime that has consistently ignored the concerns of Sunnis. … The Sunni counterweight to that reality is their alliance with Sunni rebels in Syria. That effectively obliterates the Syrian-Iraqi border, and establishes the possibility that they will precipitate a civil war with Maliki to realize a separate state comprised of Sunnis from both nations.
In a column for the Washington Post, former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker explains that the battle in Hawija represented a critical turning point in the effort to keep Iraq united. Yet far more importantly, he inadvertently reveals the fecklessness of President Obama’s politically motivated and premature withdrawal of American troops from the country. “Al-Qaida in Iraq has already begun to reestablish itself in areas that Iraqi and U.S. forces cleared at enormous cost over the past five years,” he writes. …
Crocker further notes the current Sunni-Shi’ite confrontation is reminiscentof the one which occurred in 2006 that precipitated the troop surge so vehemently opposed by Obama and the Left. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) declared that the war in Iraq was “lost” before the troops even arrived in
the country. Yet Crocker notes that, as a result of the hard-won security established
by those troops, “Sunni and Shiite leaders opted to resolve their differences through accommodation rather than through violence.” He believes the current impasse can be resolved by “a sustained, high-level diplomatic effort.” Yet absent the presence of U.S. troops to add weight to that diplomatic effort, such a prescription appears hopeless.
On Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, President Obama, in a statement similar to the one he made last week regarding the war on terror in general, “declared” that the war in Iraq was over. “I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year,” Obama said. … In doing so, he ignored the advice of military commanders who insisted a minimum of 20,000 troops should be left behind to ensure the stability that America’s fighting forces fought and died to establish. Thus, Obama has made a mockery of our soldiers’ sacrifices and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory — all so he could placate his leftist base.
The tragic consequences of that decision are unfolding at a rapid pace. A complete — and bloody — realignment of the entire Middle East is occurring, none of which accrues to America’s interests. …the U.S. has traded possible stability for almost certain chaos. As for our new role in shaping events there, it is best described by NY Post columnist Benny Avni. “What are America’s interests in any of this?” he writes. “Doesn’t matter. By opting to sit out, we’ve basically forfeited any say in the outcome.”