With the dispatch of 200 more troop to Iraq, bringing the total to some 4,000, the buildup to the Third Mideast War is approaching its climax. As pointed out here, US soldiers – previously described as “advisors” whose task is to “support” the Iraqis – are inching closer to the front lines. The loss of Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin, who came under attack from ISIS forces last month, brought home the fact that the Americans have been dragged back into the quagmire they thought they had escaped.
Particularly telling were the circumstances of Cardin’s death: he came under fire at Fire Base Bell, an exclusively US military facility. It is the first such base established since the phony “withdrawal” announced with such fanfare by President Barack Obama – and surely will not be the last. As the Guardian reports:
“[US military spokesman Colonel Steven] Warren did not rule out the marines playing more of a direct combat role as the assault on Mosul beckons. Nor did he rule out the establishment of other US bases in Iraq, and said the command would make a ‘case-by-case’ determination about informing the US public of their construction beforehand.”
Funny how a battle for Mosul “beckons” – like the Sirens of Greek mythology who beckoned to Ulysses in an effort to lure his ship onto the rocks.
The Washington Post reports that the increase in troops and their enhanced role “down to the battalion level” is to be accompanied by a weapons upgrade: US pilots will fly Apache helicopters providing air cover for Iraqi troops. Advanced rocket artillery is also being rolled out in preparation for the assault on Mosul.
This escalation is all about politics: the Post describes the possibility that the Iraqis might retake Mosul as a needed shot in the arm for the flailing government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as well as a boost for the White House, “which is seeking to deal a decisive blow to the Islamic State before President Obama leaves office.”
So this will be Obama’s ironic legacy: restarting a war that he won the presidency by opposing.
The US “surge” is designed to shore up the weak Iraqi central government, but like all government programs it contains within it the seeds of its own undoing. Alongside the addition of US troops and weaponry, Washington is sending the “autonomous” regional government in Kurdistan an extra $415 million: apparently the Kurds are broke due to falling oil prices, and can’t pay their peshmerga fighters. They are slated to play a major role in the retaking of Mosul, but this venture outside traditionally Kurdish turf is bound to make the Iraqi central government nervous and further fray the bonds that hold the nation together.
The Kurds want full independence, which Baghdad – and Washington – are loath to grant them. Yet a Kurdish state may be the price they’ll have to pay for Irbil’s cooperation.
Unleashing the Kurds – the fallback position of politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, who are squeamish about putting US troops on the ground – could have consequences far beyond what anyone now imagines. For a Kurdish enclave is embedded in practically every one of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran: furthermore, it is a testament to the fierce power of Kurdish nationalism that the idea of a “Greater Kurdistan” is given at least lip service by every major Kurdish politician. Here is a map of “Greater Kurdistan,” which extends all the way into Armenia (!) to the north, Syria to the southwest, Iran to the east, and also includes around a third of Turkey.
Empowering the Kurds with cash and weaponry is like lighting a match in a gasoline station. One can only sit back and wait for the inevitable explosion – which won’t be long in coming.
The volatility of the Kurdish issue was demonstrated the other day when Kurdish members of the Iraqi national parliament came into the chambers to vote only to discover that their name plates had been vandalized. The result was a Ukrainian-style brawl, with lawmakers pushing, shoving, and throwing punches. Legislative fisticuffs seem to be a feature of US puppet regimes: perhaps this behavior is typical of caged animals who cannot attack their keepers and so must be content to go after each other.
As I warned in the summer of 2004:
“We have destroyed Iraq as a unitary state, pulverized it into at least three parts, probably more, and this particular Humpty Dumpty is not going to be put back together again.
“Iraq was never a real nation to begin with, but just lines on a map drawn by the British Foreign Office. It was only Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist terror that managed to keep it all together: when that passed into history, so did Iraq.
“At least two successor states seem to be emerging from the wreckage: Kurdistan, and a Shi’ite Islamic ‘republic’ in the south, with the infamous ‘Sunni Triangle’ becoming an ungovernable No-man’s-land. Every ethnic and political grouping is armed to the teeth and in combat mode, and no one has a monopoly on coercion: as a nation, in any meaningful sense of the word, Iraq is effectively dead.”
At the time, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opined that we were closer to the beginning of the “war on terrorism” than to its end. I fear that the situation has not changed.
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