The Next Round in Iraq

In Iraq, the legacies of the Bush and Obama administrations have become intertwined. Should Iraq spiral into chaos and the U.S. not intervene to save it, the war in Iraq will go down as a massive blunder in the history books, both for the man who started it and the man who was elected to responsibly end it. As U.S. forces complete the withdrawal from Iraq’s cities, the enemies of the West and of Iraq’s democracy are gearing up for the next round in the battle of the Middle East.

The decline in the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq via Syria has been widely reported, but the fact that such transit remains available to them indicates this is due to a changed strategy in pursuit of the same objective, not a sudden change of heart. The Assad regime of Syria is still trying to destabilize Iraq, but at the same time modifies its behavior to maximize the benefits from the U.S. desire to develop a better relationship. While the U.S. has decided to send an ambassador to Syria, the Assad regime has reactivated the pipeline used by terrorists, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, to deadly effect. Although the flow isn’t back to its height of 100 entering Iraq per month, the number has increased to 20 from the fewer than a dozen that were entering recently.

Ahead of the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities, there has been an expected increase in attacks. This indicates that the fluctuations in the number transiting Syria may be a reflection of where al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists have decided to invest their resources, rather than flip-flops on the part of Syria. Faced with defeat following the surge, al-Qaeda began focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Now, with U.S. troops leaving, they see an opportunity to reassert themselves in Iraq and possibly gain back some of the tremendous amount of prestige and morale that has been lost since 2007.

This is probably a futile effort on the part of al-Qaeda. The Iraqi Security Forces have proven resilient and have not dissolved in the face of growing casualties and responsibilities. The Iraqis are eager to take their country back and are confident of their abilities, as demonstrated by the elected government’s decisive act of sovereignty when negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement with the Bush administration, which the Obama administration is now implementing. The threat of a civil war has subsided, as relatively few sectarian attacks are occurring and the ones that do take place fail to spark a cycle of violence. The Iraqi government is even offering about $1,800 for Sunni and Shiite couples that get married, encouraging the intermarriages between the sects that often occurred in the past but were never brought up amid the clamoring that a civil war was inevitable or had erupted.