Connecting the dots

By : Linda S. Heard

If it walk like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck was one of former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s favorite sayings in 2003 when Shock and Awe turned the Iraqi capital into a ball of flame. But just as he was wrong about Saddam’s nuclear weapons that were destroyed in the early 1990s, those who are jumping to conclusions about the situation now could be misguided.

The mainstream thinking is that a bunch of extremists have captured provinces of northern Iraq slated to be included in an Islamist state stretching westwards into northern Syria as a precursor to a caliphate. That may or may not be the case, but it’s worth considering various anomalies. For instance, why is the self-ascribed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching on Baghdad which is not only extraneous to their stated ambitions, but will also be defended by Shiite troops, militias and volunteers?

Secondly, ISIL’s behavior toward the civilian population in Mosul and other cities under its control is out of character. Whereas in Syria, its own strict interpretation of Islamic law was imposed, civilians in Iraq were simply asked to go about their daily lives after being advised that ISIL was a force of liberation from Shiite domination. One theory doing the rounds is that, in Iraq, ISIL is acting as a gun-for-hire with former Baathists led by Saddam’s elusive former vice-president and military commander Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri (The King of Clubs within George W. Bush’s “most wanted” pack of cards) responsible for the hiring. So is this, in fact, a planned Sunni insurgency. Too early to tell, but we do know that officers and soldiers in the disbanded Baathist army under the banner “Naqshbandi Army” are fighting alongside ISIL and, we know too, that Sunni tribes are cheering them on. Curious, too, was the sheer speed of ISIL’s success, enabled by the melting away of Iraqi troops and police who left their uniforms strewn along the highways along with their tanks and weapons. There are unconfirmed reports that they were ordered by their superiors to do just that. A second theory revolves around the US, which invested blood and trillions of dollars in Iraq but left virtually empty-handed. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 58 percent of Americans feel that war wasn’t worth fighting. A status of forces agreement was rejected because Iraq’s government would not agree to American soldiers operating outside the laws of the land.

Moreover, the White House has been critical of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s failure to include Sunni politicians in his government and of ignoring the demands of the Sunni population; he is guilty of giving preferential treatment to Shiites and cozying up to Iran where he lived in exile for years. But now that his chair is threatened, he’s calling out to the US for help. The war weary American public has little appetite to see their country involve in yet another war in the Middle East and Obama has come across as reluctant to intervene. But is he really? He has ruled out boots on the grounds but has tasked an aircraft carrier and two ships with guided missiles to head to the Gulf in preparation for a likely bombing campaign to send ISIL packing, but this time, he’s made it clear that US assistance comes with conditions.

A third theory is that Al-Maliki permitted ISIL’s sweep to consolidate his grip on the country with emergency powers permitting the use of unrestricted force to quash the Sunni insurgency in Anbar once and for all. If that was the case, then his plan has badly misfired because he was unable to whip up a Parliamentary quorum required to impose a state of emergency. An even bigger shock to the PM has been the disloyalty of his troops; he’s resorting to calling for Shiite volunteers and working with Shiite militias to defend Baghdad as well as the south.

In the meantime, Iraq Kurds are making hay while the sun shines, grabbing the disputed oil-rich town of Kirkuk, which they hope will be subsumed into an eventual autonomous Kurdish state. We will have to wait until the dust settles to discover the truth or some semblance of it. The question now is whether Iraq will exist as we know it — or will it be partitioned into three, which was the plan of the neoconservatives who prodded Bush to war all along?



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