For eight long years under Barack Obama, American policy in Iraq careened from one disaster to another. First, an ill-considered decision to withdraw U.S. forces snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; squandered gains purchased with massive quantities of blood and treasure reignited a once vanquished Sunni insurgency. Then, with perhaps even more horrific long-term consequences, a myopic American decision to partner with Iranian backed Shia militias and to tolerate the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel, including General Soleimani, on Iraqi soil paved the way for the Iranian conquest of Iraq and the remaking of the map of the Middle East.
The election of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 raised hopes that we would at last change course in Iraq and push back against the Iranian assimilation of that nation. To date, those hopes have gone unrealized. Despite President Trump’s tough talk about Iran during the campaign and since becoming president, the direction of American policy in Iraq has remained unchanged and the bill for our mistakes is beginning to come due.
It has been clear for some time to anyone watching the situation carefully in Iraq how things would play out on the ground. The Iranians and their Shia allies would avail themselves of American logistical support and air cover as long as it was deemed necessary in order to vanquish ISIS and crush the Sunni heartland in Iraq. That marriage of convenience would last only so long however. When the day came that U.S. forces were no longer necessary, Iranian forces and Shia militia would turn on us, muscle us aside and abandon any pretense regarding the Iranian role in Iraq.
That day has now come.
In recent weeks, Iranian-backed Shia militia, under the direction of IRGC General Soleimani, have attacked Kurdish peshmerga forces in and around the strategic city of Kirkuk. The Kurds, perhaps the only dependable allies we have ever had in Iraq and the only thing that kept my CIA team alive inside Iraq in 2002-2003, were abandoned and their pleas for assistance ignored. Faced with the overwhelming force of Shia militia armed with Abrams tanks and Humvees supplied by the United States Kurdish forces had no choice but to retreat. At least 40 percent of the territory under the control of these U.S.-allied forces was lost to Iranian aggression, and nary a protest was raised by American officials at any level.
A week ago the Iranians made their next move. Shia militia, again under the command of IRGC General Soleimani attempted to seize control of Khabur Gate, the single most important border crossing in Northern Iraq. The focus on this border crossing is yet another move toward the isolation and strangulation of Kurdish forces. Even more ominously, however, if successful it will cut the supply line to U.S. forces in Syria. Press reports that Kurdish forces agreed to relinquish control of this critical artery are poor attempts to disguise what has just occurred. The peshmerga are holding on so far but Iran is determined put a stranglehold on Kurdistan and on the roughly 2,000 U.S. military personnel inside Syria.
In the face of this naked aggression and the long anticipated move by Iran to shove the United States aside and complete the transformation of Iraq into a puppet state, the American response has been tepid at best. Secretary of State Tillerson has expressed his hope that Shia militias working for Iran will “go home” and suggested that the “Iraqi people” be allowed to regain control over areas controlled by those militias. What impact Mr. Tillerson expected such aspirational comments to have on an expansionist anti-American Islamic Republic standing on the verge of transforming Iraq into another Islamic Republic remains unclear.
U.S. National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster seems just as out of touch with the reality on the ground. In a recent interview he talked hazily about U.S. hopes for a “stable Iraq that is not aligned with Iran” but gave no real clue as to how the United States expected to make that a reality. In Washington, the verbiage smells of Obama era hopes and dreams for an international order in which we all agree to “get along.” On the ground in Iraq, the Iranians and their Shia allies are trading in brute force and intimidation. There is no real question in the Middle East as to which philosophy will triumph.
All of this is, of course, occurring against the backdrop of a well-organized and longstanding effort by the Iranians to alter the balance of power in the region and to establish a Shia Crescent from Damascus to Sanaa. Across the entire Middle East American allies are under assault, and Iran is ascendant. We still have time to turn the tide and to correct course, but to do so will require decisive changes in policy and approach. We must rebuild alliances with key allies. We must stand by our Kurdish allies. We must abandon the fantasy that Iranian backed forces in Iraq can somehow be our friends or that we can coexist with them.
Those Iranian forces must be disbanded. Now. Their Iranian enablers must be expelled from Iraq. Now. The Obama era policies of appeasement and looking the other way in Iraq while Iran entrenches itself must end. Now.
Charles "Sam" Faddis is a Veteran, retired CIA operations officer, Assistant Attorney general (Wash.) and published author. With degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Law School, he is a Senior Contributing Editor for Homeland Security Today, contributor to sofrep.com, Newsmax, and The Hill among others. He regularly appears on many networks as a national security and counter-terrorism expert. Sam is the author of "Beyond Repair: The Decline And Fall Of The CIA" and "Willful Neglect: The Dangerous Illusion Of Homeland Security. "To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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