You can’t blame people who have missed the latest news out of Iraq and Syria; as a nation we are tired of bad news from the Islamic world. But the change now unfolding is extraordinary – extraordinarily bad, including an unconfirmed report Monday that 1,700 Iraqi security forces had been executed.
The chaos and violence is from a militant group of Sunni Muslims based on the border of Syria and Iraq that have essentially pledged to take over both countries, unite it all as a caliphate (Islamic country).
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is succeeding with their troops already taking over or threatening key Iraq cities like Mosul and Falluja that many of us may remember from the U.S. military action there. Reports on national news say the Iraqi regular soldiers are fleeing in the face of better-trained and better-equipped ISIS invaders.
In Syria, the group has also been successful at carrying out a strategy for takeover that was masked largely by the regular violence there – who noticed a few more militant attacks? In Syria, they have beat other rebel groups for control of territory where the government has been forced out.
Like everything in the Middle East, religion plays a huge role in this insurgency. ISIS is a vocal proponent of the Sunni branch of Islam and considers the followers of Shia Islam as their number one enemy. The area they have quickly conquered in Iraq was once called the Sunni triangle when U.S. forces were there and the fighting was intense. Baghdad and the area of the country to its south is mostly Shia and it is expected that ISIS will meet stiff opposition once they try to move south of the capital.
The government in Baghdad has asked the U.S. to defend them and an aircraft carrier and support ships are off the coast. In an odd combination, the Shia government in Baghdad also called upon neighboring Shia-led Iran to help with the Sunni threat.
Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has consistently elevated Shiites for government posts and pushed Sunnis to the side. This militant opposition is a problem that was created by the ruling government in Baghdad and it should be remembered a ruling party that never wanted the U.S. there to begin with and was anxious for us to leave. They demurred when we suggested they allow us to handle their security and offered suggestions on managing a country. Perhaps President Obama should have that air craft carrier put in reverse?
Another thought against any type of intervention is that in the Middle East, the national boundaries were imposed by European nations about a century ago with no regard for ethnic and cultural lines – “you people are now grouped with those people.”
These divided peoples have been a source of discontent and violence ever since the arbitrary boundaries were created. Ideally the citizens there should set aside differences and work together for the future of their children and the region as a whole – let all the boats rise together on improvements to infrastructure, education and economy. But there is no evidence the people there desire any cooperation -- they deal with ethnic tension through the use of guns and suicide bombers.
Maybe we need to let them settle it, even if that means a lot of bloodshed there and innocent civilian casualties. While that seems a dire alternative, nothing else has worked for a century and just maintaining the status quo is also accepting the current levels of violence.
Ultimately the Middle East is a problem area for the entire globe and may remain that way for some time. But, the latest problems are self-inflicted by corrupt and ineffective governments in Baghdad and Damascus. The U.S. intervention, unfortunately, didn’t solve any of the internal problems in Iraq and jumping back in won’t produce a new result.