October 29, 2012

Iraq War Marches To U.S. Campaign Drums

Last week President Barack Obama delivered his usual campaign speech to excited audiences in Cleveland, Ohio and Nashua, New Hampshire.
Among the many promises that Obama claims to have fulfilled or vows to complete, "I told you I’d end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said we’d transition out of Afghanistan -- and we are. I said we’d refocus on the terrorists who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks -- and al Qaeda is decimated and Osama bin Laden is dead. We kept those promises. A new tower is rising above the New York skyline. Our heroes are starting to come home. I’ve kept those promises."
As usual, another wave of bombings immediately struck Iraq's cities following Obama's latest week of politicking, a week that included a no-details foreign policy squabble with Mitt Romney. Large numbers of casualties seem to follow his optimistic assessments with disturbing regularity, either due to coincidence or the sheer number of times that Obama has "ended" Iraq's war on the campaign trail. Last Friday was no different; after "ending" the war in New Hampshire, a small flurry of bombs marked the beginning of an ominous Eid al-Adha. Saturday and Sunday awakened to cross-capital explosions and gunfire, the latest string of attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). al-Qaeda's front group quickly promised, “What will come after will be much worse so be prepared."
Iraqi officials estimated this weekend's death-toll at 79, in addition to hundreds of wounded, raising October's fatalities above 240. Over 325 casualties of war were recorded in July, another 164 in August and 250 deaths in September, with many thousands more wounded. According to Iraq Body Count, at least seven Iraqis have been killed daily since the last U.S. combat troops left the country in December 2011. The latest assessment from Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, concluded that the last three months of violence "rose to levels not seen for more than two years."

His count estimated 1,048 fatalities and casualties in September alone.
Luckily for Obama, few watchdogs stand ready to factcheck his foreign promises in the U.S. media. Accepting all three is easier than explaining how two American-initiated wars refuse to end on U.S. terms, and how al-Qaeda has spun off resilient branches outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus he can escape relatively unscathed when comparing Romney with himself: ”You can choose a foreign policy that's reckless and wrong, or you can choose the kinds of leadership that I’ve provided that's steady and strong.” However the reality of many areas shaped by U.S. politico-military influence reflects Obama's criticism upon himself. This is especially true in Iraq, where U.S. policy remains both strategically reckless and morally bankrupt.
The ills of U.S. policy begin with al-Qaeda's entrenched presence and roll downhill from there. Logically speaking, a war involving America and al-Qaeda's offspring cannot end until the two actors mutually agree to its end. Pulling American combat troops out of Iraq didn't end the war or snuff out its diverse insurgency, but instead transitioned the conflict into a new period of long-term asymmetry. Some groups' military activities, namely Muqtada al-Sadr's Promised Day Brigades, were subdued with political power, but fringe groups had nothing to gain from joining organized politics. al-Qaeda made no secret of its plan to go underground, rearm and emerge following Iraq's 2010 election; those Iraqis who have fallen to the ISI's attacks and other militant actions in 2011 and 2012 are casualties of the 2003 invasion.
Complicating matters further is the movement of ISI personnel between Iraq and Syria. While Obama continues to pat himself on the back for "ending" Iraq's war, his administration separately fears al-Qaeda's presence within Syria's opposition and the cache of weapons smuggled into the country. This dilemma alone highlights the political expediency of Obama's lie, and the road from Damascus to Baghdad flows both ways. al-Qaeda personalities in Iraq have publicly denied a direct role in Syria's cross-boarder activity, except the ISI's network is credited for delivering weapons and expertise into Syria's battlefields. Thus one branch of a supposedly dying base functions as the ideal conduit to smuggle foreign fighters into a new front for international jihad.
Conversely, the backflow from Syria's war is likely to extend the ISI's lifespan beyond its current position. Bowen's assessment estimated that "as many as 2,500 members of al-Qaeda in Iraq" are now living in five training camps in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar and Saladin provinces. In June 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “there are a thousand al-Qaeda that are still in Iraq.”
Above al-Qaeda, the White House and Pentagon have pressured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to investigate Iranian flights that are suspected of ferrying pilgrims and arms to Syria. al-Maliki is believed to be covering the sky-trail between Tehran and Bashar al-Assad, with the former wielding more influence over al-Maliki than Washington. In blunt terms, the Obama administration's support for al-Maliki is an unmitigated diplomatic fiasco. The modest political influence that Washington immediately salvaged by backing his re-election in 2010 has been ceded to Tehran, wasting the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi citizens in the process. Both al-Maliki and the Obama administration failed to implement the Irbil Agreement, a power-sharing agreement negotiated with Iraqiya chief Ayad Allawi, and a power-sharing dispute naturally followed. Obama himself would instigate a running feud between al-Maliki and Vice Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Iraq's central government remains paralyzed from 2010's shock, divided and corrupted under al-Maliki's self-interested rule, and unable to efficiently rebuild itself from the American-led invasion. Meanwhile al-Qaeda needs limited popular support to operate and is feeding off chronic Sunni marginalization to re-energize, stockpiling enough resources to thrive in a fourth-generation war (4GW).
For these reasons - not any accomplishments - Obama has tiptoed around Iraq without explaining the dangerous reality of its current situation. Although he accuses Romney of failing to define his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama possesses one mere line for the former and not a word more. Nor will Afghanistan's war end on his convenient political schedule.

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