The Iraq war was a colossal mistake that strengthened Iran beyond belief. There was never any realistic chance of installing a pro-American government in Shiite-dominated Baghdad. Our forces are eternally on the hook both for the Iranian-backed Shiite attacks and the Sunni insurgencies, in response to the Shiite hegemony threatening our forces and assets in the country. This is the enduring lesson our policymakers refuse to understand as they continue to grope in the darkness, perpetuating policies in the Middle East based on illusions. In the case of Iraq, there is this illusion that Baghdad is somehow our ally, when in fact it is perpetually an ally of Iran. This is painfully obvious from the developments today in Iraq.
Our continued presence in Iraq and support for the Baghdad regime are actually harming our deterrent against Iran and preventing us from countering it directly in the Straits of Hormuz and through more robust sanctions. Because of our fear that Iran will retaliate against our forces in Iraq, our government has largely held back from destroying Iran’s naval piracy operations in the Persian Gulf, which, unlike the Iraq nation-building mission, actually affects our strategic interests.
This fear came to fruition last Friday when an Iranian-backed Shiite militia attacked our base in Kirkuk with rockets, killing one contractor and wounding several U.S. soldiers. U.S. forces responded by launching air strikes against the Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) militia in five locations throughout Iraq and Syria, killing dozens of their fighters. This set off a protest/attack against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad today that is close to spiraling out of control.
While everyone is focusing on the actual sacking of the U.S. embassy, the most important observation is the fact that these militias were able to breach the Green Zone security perimeter controlled by the Iraqi government. It’s evident that the Baghdad government itself is not just unreliable, but is controlled by these very forces.
A man waiving #Iran-Backed Kataeb Hezbollah's flag outside the #US Embassy in #Baghdad. To reach that area in Gree… https://t.co/8SMxhgIE1L— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@Nafiseh Kohnavard) 1577783314.0
The silliness of the US state building and counterterrorism enterprise in one picture. https://t.co/fGH3hn80e4— Tony Badran (@Tony Badran) 1577811035.0
Thus, once again, we are paying for the rope to hang ourselves in the Middle East. We fought together with some of these same militias in 2016 to bail out a Shiite pro-Iran government from the Sunni insurgency, aka ISIS. Now they are attacking us. How about we finally step outside the dumpster fire of tribal warfare and take a more holistic approach to the Middle East? We should draw a security perimeter around our maritime assets, zap anything that challenges them with our air and naval assets, and leave the land-based tribal wars to the Islamists.
This notion that we must remain in Baghdad to fight off Iranian influence is the most circular argument imaginable. The Shiite population is already going to side with Iran in perpetuity, and it will forever spawn endless rounds of Sunni insurgencies. We will never be able to fix the constituencies that these terrorist actors represent. The best we can do is free ourselves from this entanglement, so that we can confront Iran directly from a position of strength.
We have pumped endless funds into the “Afghan government,” the “Iraqi government,” and the “Lebanese armed forces.” In the case of the latter two, we as may as well hand the checks straight to Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just signed off on $115 million in aid to Lebanon’s armed forces, even as a Hezbollah member, Hassan Diab, was chosen by the Hezbollah-dominated parliament to be the new prime minister.
Our policies are built on the illusion of governments in the Middle East distinct from the terrorist actors or the insufferably fractured constituencies they represent. That fantasy is getting our people killed and harming our deterrent in the theaters that actually matter in the Middle East.