The Islamic State Quagmire

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The Islamic State -- if Iraq's army fled why is this America's war?

If Barack Obama owes his presidency to one thing, it was the good sense he had back in 2002 to call the Iraq War what it was: “dumb.”

Now, with scarcely a whisper of debate, Obama has become the fourth consecutive U.S. president to bomb Iraq — and in fact has outdone his predecessors by spreading the war to Islamic State targets in Syria as well. With the Pentagon predicting that this latest conflict could rage for three years or longer, Obama is now poised to leave behind a Middle East quagmire that closely resembles the one he was elected to end.

Obama says the plan is to hammer Islamic State targets from the air while bolstering partners on the ground. There are two big problems with this.

First, bombs kill and injure civilians, potentially radicalizing their friends and families.

Look no further than the drone war battlegrounds of Yemen and Pakistan, where terrorist recruiters have exploited the severe trauma inflicted on civilians there to sign up new members. A similar dynamic could play out in Iraq and Syria, where the White House has suspended the already paltry rules meant to limit civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Second, those partners on the ground come with a lot of baggage.

Despite outnumbering Islamic State forces 40 to 1, the Iraqi Army turned over Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — without firing a shot, leaving behind millions of dollars worth of advanced U.S. military equipment. And when the Iraqi Army does fight, it has a nasty penchant for dropping indiscriminate (and illegal) barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods, as it did in Islamist-held Fallujah earlier this year.

Shiite militias may step in to fill the gap left by the Iraqi Army. But many of these groups were deeply involved in the sectarian bloodletting of Iraq’s turbulent post-invasion years, and some have refused to collaborate with the United States.

While the Kurds may prove more reliable allies, their first priority is to consolidate their own territory in Iraq — as evidenced by their seizure of the disputed (and oil-rich) city of Kirkuk during the chaos of the Islamic State invasion in June.

In Syria, the options are even worse: It’s either the dictator Bashar al-Assad — with whom Washington has refused to cooperate — or a gaggle of so-called “moderate” Syrian rebel groups that the White House plans to vet, train, and arm to the teeth.

 

For the rest of Peter Certo's column please see OtherWords.org 

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