“Don’t you just love the way the Western media avoids mentioning the 2003 invasion in its coverage of the current mess in Iraq,” a Russian diplomat told me. “It’s as if what happened then has absolutely no bearing on what’s going on in Iraq now.”
I believe that Russian diplomat is right. It’s embarrassing to watch Western hacks doing their best to make it look as if the onslaught of the Sunni militants on Baghdad has only to do with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s failures and his inability – or refusal – to create a government of national unity and succumbing to corruption. As if Iraq, after the US troop withdrawal, was a country ready to enter a democratic era.
“Iraq is imploding from within,” said one grandee of British broadcasting commenting on the current crisis and missing the irony of his own words by about a mile.
It’s pretty clear now that the Obama Administration has been taken by complete surprise by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), taking over the north of Iraq with such ease. It has also been a major embarrassment for the Pentagon that the Iraqi government forces simply deserted – by the thousands – the second largest city, Mosul, and other towns for insurgents to take over, leaving behind their fancy US arms and military hardware.
Some Russian military experts claim the US spent up to $450bn on training and arming the Iraqi government forces – albeit, a report issued by the US government states over $25bn was committed to training the Iraqi army.
Varying political viewpoints
US President Barack Obama has already made a number of bizarre statements on Iraq, saying, for example, that it’s up to the Iraqis themselves to sort out the current crisis. He made a 30-minute address on Iraq and it amounted to him basically saying that he didn’t really know what to do, and will tell the world later what his plan might be.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has done his utmost, incidentally, to prevent the Chilcot report on the war in Iraq from seeing the light of day in Britain, has stayed very quiet in the days when Mosul fell and the Sunni insurgents started heading for Baghdad.
So how is the current crisis in Iraq, which has already turned into a full blown civil war, viewed from Russia? Well, Moscow has already stated that it is supporting the Iraqi government and its people in their fight against the extremists. Behind the scenes, however, Russian officials are saying that the US should have seen all this coming after supporting Sunni rebels in Libya and Syria.
The view is that Obama really has no choice but to intervene, one way or another, because the fall of Baghdad, if it happens, would send shock waves throughout the entire Middle East and beyond. It’s one thing to try to get rid of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and hope to strike a deal with the moderate opposition, but it’s a totally different situation when ISIL fighters try to create their own “state”.
Mind you, there is also a school of thought in Moscow at the moment that the US is actually behind the ISIL onslaught, as the crisis in Iraq has caused panic in Tehran and Damascus in the hopes that Iran and Syria might get dragged into this conflict, opening up new opportunities for the West. Proponents of this theory are saying that the same tactic has been applied in Libya and Syria and, more recently, in Ukraine where the West sided with the most extreme elements to overthrow the regime of President Viktor Yanukovich and paving the way for NATO to come knocking on Russia’s front door.
“Let’s hope that the people in Kiev are watching what is going on in Iraq and realise that the US would sell them down the river, like it did Maliki, if it suits its interest,” one diplomat told me.
The Russian stance on the situation in Iraq is pretty simple at the moment: it’s not about gloating, it’s most definitely about “we told you so”. The idea is to let the US try to confront a problem it has itself created. Obama’s options are very limited. He’s already said that sending US troops into Iraq is out of the question. Keep in mind he has mid-term elections coming up in the fall and will likely lose the Senate to the Republicans if more US troops die in Iraq.
Conducting air strikes probably looks like the best option for the White House but it might actually backfire, opening the floodgates for extremists from Syria and other places to rush in to help their brothers. As for the possible involvement of the United Nations in helping to resolve the situation, well, we all know what happens when the “international community” gets involved in a hot spot.
The crisis in Iraq comes at an inconvenient time for the US when its relations with Russia have cooled down dramatically, to put it mildly, over Ukraine. Russia, which could have helped to resolve the situation, using its links with Damascus and Tehran, is not likely to rush to help out its “American partners”, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov likes to call the Obama Administration these days. This time around, no one will be answering the phones if the Yanks call the Kremlin for assistance.
The weirdest thing of all, as the situation stands, is that the US has suddenly found itself in a boat with Iran and Syria, both of whom are ready to help Maliki’s government contain the Sunni insurgency. Imagine telling leaders in Washington, say two weeks ago, that this would be the scene in Iraq today. The reaction would have been one of astonishment and anger. But that’s how things work in this unstable world we live in. It is a reality that world leaders must take into account as they face the challenges of the brave new world we live in.
Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.
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