It’s time for the tredecennial review of the quagmire in Iraq. In my 2002 column, I cautioned:
“If Iraq were completely destroyed, it will break in three: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, inflaming more conflict.”
Parts of that warning turned out to be true. Conflict has generated more conflict. The Kurds represent a coherent entity in the North, if not a Kurdish state. There is no Sunni state in the middle of Iraq but Anbar province is controlled by Sunni leaders of Saddam Hussein’s former party. Shiites are not just in the South. With the help of the U.S., they control government.
Whereas Canada declined involvement in the earlier invasion, now we are willing participants in the bombing of Iraq. The Harper government apparently believes that, while massive bombing didn’t fix the problem in the first place, a few more should do the trick.
Another difference is that the Prime Minster’s office sees the invasion as public relations opportunity. When Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the PMO issued a video reminiscent of U.S. President Bush’s macho response to the attacks of September 9, 2001. Reporter Patrick Graham describes the chest-thumping by the PMO:
“Three months after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack [on Cirillo], the PMO put out a jingoistic video –a montage of the cenotaph and the gunfight on Parliament Hill that included a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot punching the air; presumably after a successful mission. The takeaway: Avenge Corporal Cirillo. Bomb ISIS (Walrus magazine, June, 2015).”
Canada’s bravado avoids a vexing question. How were millions of Iraqis overcome by a few thousand ISIS fighters?
“As Canada continues –indeed escalates –its war with ISIS, politicians and policy-makers need to grapple with that question in a serious way,” says Graham. “But based on it public pronouncements thus far, there is little evidence that government’s analysis has gone beyond patriotic slogans and images of pumped-up fighter pilots.”
The Shiite-Sunni conflict has extended fourteen centuries. Relations were calm until Hussein came to power in the 1970s when he banned Shiite ceremonies and ruthlessly put down a Shiite uprising.
The opportunity for revenge came when a Shiite was installed as head of the Iraqi government. With Prime Minister Maliki in control of the army, Sunnis were arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. Sunni tribal leaders, who had joined the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, were cut off from positions of power.
No wonder that many Sunnis have welcomed ISIS over a Shiite army. “From a Sunni point of view, the U.S. occupation simply was replaced with an occupation run by Tehran’s proxy armies [the Shiites].”
The undisciplined and corrupt Shiite army simply folded in the face of a small, determined, ISIS force. Army morale had been undermined by incompetent officers who were more interested in extortion than building confidence within the rank and file.
It will be interesting to see whether Canada’s new government will carry on with war as a public relations exercise or take a more nuanced approach. I’ll let you know in 13 years.