Shi'ite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), take part in field training in Najaf, August 20, 2014.
Ali Khedery, the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq (2003-09), recently sat down with Reza Akhlaghi of the Foreign Policy Association to discuss American policy in the Middle East.
The candid discussion highlights several mistakes the U.S. made in the 21st century and lays out some troubling potential scenarios for the future if circumstances continue to worsen.
"As the Middle East unravels, the U.S. and its allies will be the real losers because we won’t be able to contain these cancers of sectarian war and transnational jihad," Khedery, who is now chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners, told Akhlaghi. "Radicals will grow in strength on both sides, namely the Salafist ISIS and the Shia militias, eventually driving the entire region towards destabilization, inevitably threatening global energy supplies and the global economy."
Iraq accounts for 61% of expected growth in output capacity of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by 2018. And while most reserves are in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Shia south, an Iraq that's on fire is not good for supply lines.
Furthermore, all signs indicate an intensifying Shia-Sunni war stretching from the Mediterranean coast to Iran as the Tehran-backed and Shia-dominated governments of Syria and Iraq face largely Sunni insurgencies dominated by the growing army of ISIS.
And both sides have become increasingly sectarian: In northern Iraq, ISIS has slaughtered hundreds of people whom they consider apostates, while Shia militiamen have committed large-scale killings of Sunnis in southern Iraq.
Khedery lays significant blame for the current crisis at Obama's feet, noting that in 2010 " Washington betrayed the promises that the U.S. government had made to the Sunni tribal leaders, the same leaders that had fought al-Qaeda [in Iraq] throughout the 'Awakening.'"
It didn't necessarily have to be this way. Back in December 2010, America's continued support of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made it so that "Iraq’s path toward civil war was really inevitable," Khedery said. That's because Maliki's new lease on life led him to steer Baghdad "toward a very pro-Iranian and sectarian agenda, which inevitably disillusioned and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs for a second time."
And the subsequent events are what brought us to today's precarious situation.
"Then given Maliki’s misrule in Iraq and Assad’s misrule in Syria and their cooperation along with the Iranians and Hezbollah to wage a campaign of genocide, led to a region-wide sectarian war while the United States under President Obama stood back and watched and did nothing as the violence spiraled further and further out of control," Khedery said.
He added that "the reason why we face strategic defeat in the Middle East is because we are not choosing to act in a forceful way against ISIS." Last week Obama said that the administration still does not have a policy to confront ISIS, which (along with the Iranian-backed Shia militias) are battle-hardened.
"So what will happen is that the spiral of sectarian warfare will increase more and more, radicalizing the Sunni populations more and more and eventually spilling over into countries across the region almost all of which have mixed Shia-Sunni populations," Khedery said.
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