“It would behoove U.S. policy makers to stop impotent regrets about the loss of a “united, democratic, progressive Iraq,” which ever existed only in their own minds. Rather, they should get used to the region’s new map and demand of Sunni-stan’s sponsors in the Gulf that they guide it to getting along with its neighbors.”
Sunni fighters from around the Muslim world, having failed to conquer all of Syria from the Assad regime’s Alewites (a branch of Shia Islam) have been pushed eastward into majority-Sunni areas. These extend from east-central Syria into north-central Iraq. A wholly artificial border divides them. In recent days, they have established control over Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, from Fallujah and Mosul to the edges of Tikrit and Samarra. Our foreign policy establishment’s illusion that world events are principally about the United States, and its reflexive commitment to existing international borders, has led it to misunderstand that the region’s wars have been about re-drawing the unnatural borders imposed by the Wilsonians who subdivided the Ottoman Empire in 1919.
Our establishment, having neither ideas nor means for stopping this re-drawing, has reacted by hand-wringing (e.g. “the fall of Mosul” WSJ 6/11). Herewith, some suggestions for understanding these events’ implications for U.S. interests.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, regardless of U.S. motives, made it possible for all of the region’s peoples to set about forcibly securing the political arrangements they desired. In the war that followed Saddam’s overthrow, the U.S. government believed that the issues were moderation versus extremism, democracy versus autocracy, and modernity versus the Middle Ages. But the folks who were actually doing the fighting had other things in mind.
The objective of Iraq’s Kurds, unequivocally, was to establish Kurdistan — with its own excellent army (the Peshmerga) its own language, flag, and institutions. They achieved all that, have invited Kurds living inside Syria, Turkey, and Iran to join them, and have mostly watched the region’s other peoples fight among themselves.
Thus the “Iraq War” pitted local Sunni Arabs, supported by the entire Sunni world, against local Shia Arabs, supported by the one and only Shia power, Iran. (The Americans’ practical objective, to tamp down the fighting, made them targets for both sides.)