Die Welt, Germany
America’s Lost Gains in Iraq
By Clemens Wergin
Thirteen years after 9/11, global terror is on the advance — in Iraq as well as in Syria and North Africa. President Obama's policy of withdrawal has failed.
Translated By Simon Wood
11 June 2014
Edited by Bora Mici
Germany - Die Welt - Original Article (German)
The world still remembers that "mission accomplished" moment in May 2003 when U.S. President George W. Bush, in full flight gear, arrived on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that the war in Iraq was over. Only afterward did the civil war in Mesopotamia really get going, claiming the lives of countless Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers.
At the time, that "mission accomplished" brought Bush in for a lot of ridicule and criticism from Barack Obama's Democrats — even years later, when Bush's executive decision to increase the number of troops and implement a new strategy in the fight against the insurgents had actually changed the situation. Now, Obama is experiencing his own mission accomplished moment. Ultimately, at Fort Bragg, on the occasion of the departure from Iraq in December 2011, he gave a speech in which he praised the "moment of success" and stated that America was leaving behind a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq."
The recent gains on the ground in Iraq by the Islamic terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, however, make it clear that much of what the Americans achieved, at a very high cost, has now been lost again. Mosul and the provinces of Anbar and Niniveh are now in the hands of radical Islamists. In his desire to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible, and his inability to wrest an agreement from Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, the president has jeopardized what the Americans had achieved through nine years of stabilization and reconstruction efforts.
The Culpability of the Iraqis
It's not fair, however, to heap the entire blame on American shoulders for the renewed disintegration of Iraq. The sectarian-minded Prime Minister al-Maliki carries a certain amount of the blame for the triumphal procession of the Islamists. While the Americans initiated reconciliations between the Sunnis and Shiites, the Shiite al-Maliki has done everything to re-alienate the Sunnis rather than integrate them.
However, ISIS—which split from al-Qaida because its members found the bin-Ladenists too radical—now not only control the Syrian Raqqa, but also the second largest city in Iraq and important areas in the north, due to the American withdrawal. Obama's strategy for disentanglement from the global crisis, American world-weariness and collapse of Arabian statehood in the region have created vacuums, which all sorts of terrorist groups have made use of—in Syria, just as in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
According to a newly published RAND study, the global terror threat has increased worryingly in recent years. While in 2007, there were only 28 Salafi jihadi groups like al-Qaida, in 2013, there were 49. These carried out around 100 attacks in 2007; in contrast this number is now 950. Meanwhile, these groups have between 44,000 and 105,000 active members, twice as many as in 2007.
The number of strikes carried out by groups allied with al-Qaida has tripled. The State Department itself had to admit in a recent study that the number of terrorist attacks has risen sharply of late. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, the number of attacks grew accordingly from 6,700 to 9,700. About 18,000 people were killed, 33,000 wounded.
While the West had hoped some years ago that the Arab revolution would deprive the jihadis of local support and breeding grounds, the opposite occurred. The collapsing of political systems in Libya, Sinai and Mali offered the terrorists the opportunity to use these countries as a theater of operations or safe havens, and the ongoing civil war in Syria is the best tool for recruiting soldiers and raising funds for weapons. The country has become the new Afghanistan — the point of attraction and training ground for the next generation of jihadi soldiers, who then use their combat experience gained elsewhere. That's exactly what is currently happening in Iraq. ISIS has made use of the porous borders in Syria and deployed jihadis, originally recruited by Syria from all over the world, in the neighboring country.
After initial triumphs, ISIS has met considerable resistance in Syria from the moderate rebels and Kurds. This has apparently led to the organization now concentrating its considerable fighting power in the north of Iraq, where the Iraqi army can do little to oppose them, and the (oil) wealth of Mosul presents a lucrative target.
Getting Closer to the Caliphate Dream
Thus could ISIS achieve the dream of a large caliphate, encompassing parts of Syria and northern Iraq. Something of this kind hasn't been achieved by any terrorist group since the Americans destroyed the Afghan symbiosis of al-Qaida and the Taliban, and this will bring in more Islamic radicals from all over the world, to either join ISIS or support the organization financially. With this in mind, the conquest of Mosul was also a successful PR-coup.
Obama has always positioned himself in terms of foreign policy as an "anti-Bush" who wanted to avoid the errors of his predecessor. Now it seems that it is not enough to just "not be Bush" and "not to do stupid shit," a maxim used by the president recently in describing his foreign policy. There are not only errors due to hyperactivity but also due to inactivity, and the consequences of these will take time to become apparent.
The latter includes Syria, as well as Libya, where there is a lack of willingness to help stabilize the country after the downfall of dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi—an accusation that has to be as much leveled at Europe as the United States because Europe is much more directly affected by the new terrorist nests in its neighborhood than the United States. The new breeding grounds for terrorists in the Middle East are now much closer to the nerve centers of the West than al-Qaida ever was in Afghanistan. We should therefore not make the same mistake again in underestimating the danger of global jihadism.