Iraq: what can we do?

There’s almost nothing harder to understand than the Arabic world. Their capacity for hating each other and us can be baffling, especially if you have a limited understanding of the region’s history. No-one’s going to pretend I’m not included in that bracket, but I’d like to share my thoughts with you anyway.

ISIS has made serious gains in Iraq; provoking worries that its next target will be Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. ISIS is a Sunni fundamentalist grouping, is in fact an Al-Qaeda break-away, and it seeks to establish a Muslim caliphate of-old across the Levant and Iraq.

I don’t need to tell you that this would unacceptable; we can’t take sides in the Sunni-Shia divide (contrary to previous writings of mine, which I do formally recant, as we are all learning) because this would be a gross underestimation of how deep the problems run, and would probably prolong the sectarian strife in that region for another couple of centuries. However, we are certainly not looking to establish a ‘terrorist state’ right at the core of the Arab world, that sacred objective which has determined American policy in the region up till now. Essentially, that is a noble objective, and certainly the only clear one to follow.

Having invaded their country twice in the last two decades, it would be cowardly and pathetic to turn our backs on Iraqis now that the Great British people no longer have the stomach for war. The 2003 invasion was a total mess, and I’m unconvinced of its usefulness in doing anything at all. The motives for the invasion seem to be transparently corrupt with respect to the Americans, and totally pathetic with respect to ours.

But we set up a government which was elected, albeit with sectarian bias. The dictator we toppled was a Sunni-strongman, hellbent on repressing Iraq’s Shia majority and waging a holy war against Iran. I doubt anyone misses Saddam Hussein, but now Iraq’s Sunnis are feeling the pinch of Shia revenge, which has encouraged them to rise up and join with ISIS to combat their own government.

They have taken the city of Mosul, and already started “summary executions”; leading a frantic Shia cleric to encourage the Shia population to arm itself in preparation for the Sunni advance. That’s really not helpful.

With my very limited knowledge of this crisis, I can only suggest that we do all we can to stabilise and support the Iraqi government that we have ourselves installed. So far their troops have turned tail and fled from Sunni militants in their thousands, a most embarrassing state of affairs. Moral in the army has taken a downturn in the face of worsening Jihadist violence and the mutilation and even crucifixion of their captured comrades.

There’s no question of boots-on-the-ground, the British people are totally averse to the idea, and I quite agree. But there must be some way we can help the Iraqi government to retain control; perhaps we could provide military expertise, or even munitions.

After spending 179 British lives on this country, it’s too late to turn our backs now.







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