“The situation is fragile,” said a senior State Department official, who spoke to The Huffington Post anonymously so that he could give frank assessments.
“Al-Qaeda is now a very serious threat, and the [Iraqi] government needs to be more active in reaching out to all groups.
“Iraq remains important, a key to the region,” he said. “It is certainly not a 'failed state,' but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Not that we haven’t invested heavily -- tragically -- for what most Americans regard as a mistake that did not make us any safer.
The Iraq War was one of the longest, most expensive and controversial in our history. It cost the lives of some 4,500 Americans, at least 135,000 Iraqis (some estimates range significantly higher) and, over the long term, more than $2 trillion to drive Saddam Hussein from power and use military means to “stand up” a replacement.
We aren’t stuck in Iraq anymore. But we are stuck with Iraq.
That means, among other things, executing an all-too-familiar, shopworn power move: pushing “our” autocratic strongman toward democracy (usually by threatening to withhold arms), but not leaning so hard that his government and society collapse.
Simple. Iraq must master, or at least contain, religious and ethnic conflicts that have raged in the Middle East for millennia. After all, if the country can’t do that, no one else can -- and someone must.
Those conflicts have flared into the worst violence Iraq has seen since 2008, pitting the Shia-led government and its sectarian allies against Sunni insurgents and Kurdish separatists.
According to Obama administration officials and congressional aides, the key is to guarantee Sunnis -- once the ruling faction -- a governing role strong enough to counter the appeal of a Sunni-led jihadist group called the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). ("Al-Sham" refers to the Levant.)
But the jihadists will do what they can to disrupt the fact and the message of democracy. Many ISIS recruits come from neighboring Syria, where they are fighting the Shia-backed government of President Bashar Assad, and are dedicated to theocratic rule.
The Obama administration sees ISIS as the biggest current threat to stability. It’s a bitter irony, and yet another example of the unintended consequences that stem from any action in the Middle East: Heading to war, the Bush administration was dead wrong when it said al-Qaeda was in Iraq; after the war, a new form of al-Qaeda is a grave threat, according to the Obama administration.
Iraq has been letting Iran use its airspace to ferry supplies to Assad, btw.
America's own efforts at rebuilding the country have produced a mixed record at best. An inspector general’s report earlier this year found that more than $8 billion of the $60 billion the U.S. had spent on civilian “reconstruction” in Iraq since 2003 had been flat-out wasted, and that much of the rest of the work was of dubious value or long-term benefit.
Meanwhile, Iraq can’t fully protect or even police its own borders or air space.
“The problem is that the country was so wrecked and destroyed by the war,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq specialist at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy. “The infrastructure isn’t there.”
After spending hundreds of billions of dollars on war and reconstruction, the U.S. government is dialing back its support, which this year amounts to perhaps $3 billion, including more than a billion to support diplomatic security and a military mission led by a three-star general.
Which means, in the long run, that China may end up “owning” Iraq, at least financially, and without having had to fight a war to do so.
That would be just one more ironic outcome to our "liberation" of Iraq.