Iraq: Engulfed by Al Qaeda’s Shadow

by Katrina Jorgensen

TCS News


In May 2007, more than half of Americans disagreed with the War on Iraq. Barrack Obama knew this during his campaign, and made a decision to end the U.S. engagement, even before entering office. But like most wars, it is the winner that gets the most attention from history. Right now it appears that the victor in Iraq is, not the conscientious President, but the deadly rule of terrorism.

That terrorism could have never taken hold without the actions, or more accurately, inactions of the current Commander-in-Chief. Obama came to the Presidency with one goal for Iraq: leaving. Ignoring army recommendations, and counsel from some of his own advisors on the situation, he chose to withdraw America’s military presence. President Bush had previously negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that included a plan to withdraw troops at the end of 2011. However, his military commanders hoped to keep 20,000 to 25,000 troops in the country for training, security and counter-terrorism purposes.

Obama tried to rush the troop removal, and argued for leaving a significantly smaller force in Iraq, less than 10,000 troops. He also added an additional condition that all American forces received full immunity from Iraq. The Iraqi parliament did not approve this request. Obama later predicated his removal of all American forces on this one refusal, claiming the withdrawal was not his decision, but the decision of the Iraqi government. After the withdrawal, Iraqi on Iraqi violence increased. We left Iraq without air support, opening their skies to the Iranians. In the end, Obama very carefully shifted any blame for the withdrawal on a government he hardly engaged with.

Bush kept in close contact with Iraqi leaders during his Presidency. He held weekly video meetings with Prime Minister Malaki and other important government figures. Conversely, Obama kept his distance from the conflict. Despite the numerous new opportunities to normalize diplomatic relations, such as after provincial elections, Obama did not actively engage Iraq’s leadership. He treated Iraq as a problem of the former administration that he desperately needed to vanish. He refused to see the country as a strategic international partner who now shared a common historical turning point with America. Iraq was just a thorny campaign issue in his re-election bid. When Maliki did finally meeting Obama in person, witnesses claimed that Maliki’s issues were bushed off as “domestic affairs” and left Iraq’s Prime Minister incredibly frustrated.

Not that Iraq’s Prime Minister had the best track record of democracy. But the current White House’s approach to Iraq remained “hands off” especially when it came to Maliki. Iraq’s 2010 elections gave a narrow victory to Iraqiya List, a mostly Sunni party led by a prominent Shi’ite. But due to pressures from Maliki and a lot of backroom deals, a judge ruled that the Dawa party would form the government, keeping Maliki in charge. Multiple sources say U.S. diplomats knew this ruling violated the Iraqi constitution, but never publicly acknowledged the fact, nor did the White House pressure Maliki to return to democratic principles. While America did help create a power-sharing arrangement, Obama had no interest in making sure this fragile balance remained intact.

In December 2011, Obama took every opportunity to praise Iraq as a success, highlighting his own valuable role in Iraq’s future. He even praised Maliki’s leadership at a joint press conference, calling the current government the most inclusive one in Iraq’s history; obviously on the checklist for Obama’s campaign. Unfortunately, the day after, Maliki’s Deputy Prime Minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq accused the Prime Minister of “dictator” tendencies and revealed how Maliki dealt with his opposition. Maliki arrested his enemies, or drove them out of Iraq, sentencing them to death in absentia. His paranoia was on full display in the months following the American withdrawal. But even into last year, Obama has doggedly kept up his support of Maliki and his decisions in the wake of the Iraq war.

The biggest test of any democracy is the peaceful handover of power to an opposition party. America left Iraq before that happened. It has taken less than three years to fill that absence with something much worse than an authoritarian leadership.

In Obama’s 2013 State of the Union, he made an even more fantastic claim than the stability of Iraq, the defeat of Al Qaeda. He called Al Qaeda a “shadow of its former self” and while he acknowledged other “splinter groups” he did not note their increased ruthlessness. Now the rise of militant Islamic groups, nurtured by Al Qaeda and its long shadow, like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and al-Nursa can be seen across the Middle East, especially in the destruction of Syria. At one point, Al Qaeda even distanced itself from ISIS over its extremism and lack of hierarchy. This same group currently terrorizes vulnerable Iraq.

No amount of campaigning can cover-up the failure in Iraq. Obama refused to complete our duty in a conflict and then promoted a leader who drove even deeper sectarian wedges into the country. His lack of leadership on Iraq shows his contempt for America’s international integrity. We’ve left Iraq in a place where they cannot defend themselves, where they will lose to the terrorists without outside intervention.

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