Wednesday, January 8, 2014
The Fall of Fallujah
This piece appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog
The fall of Fallujah to Islamic terrorists in Iraq is a troubling situation for the world community - especially for President Obama. Many Americans died in one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War to capture Fallujah and now they are bearing witness to its seismic collapse. Fallujah's descent also holds larger consequences and foreshadows the waning war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan aside, the more pressing issue is what to do about terrorist occupation in Iraq and in Syria?
Many legislators do not feel that sending in troops again is the proper course of action, but they do encourage the Obama Administration to provide aid in the form of military supplies to the Iraqi government, who has asked repeatedly for it. The problem with providing aid is trust. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not been the most trustworthy of allies in a region where the United States hoped to build friendly relations. Maliki has been accused of cozying up to Iran while asking the United States for assistance. Neither Iran nor the United States are particularly pleased with Maliki's back and forth between the two. Iran has, however, mentioned that it will help Iraq dispel terrorists but will not send troops. There has not been any mention yet of a joint US-Iranian effort.
The United States has already begun sending aid in the form of drones and hellfire missiles but the US will not provide "operational advice" according to Col. Steven Warren, which was reiterated by Secretary of State John Kerry who asserted that the US will not send more troops but will assist Maliki's government. One of the more vocal opponents of President Obama's policy involving the War in Iraq, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), also disagrees with sending in troops. Kinzinger, an Iraq War veteran, stated, "While we cannot reintroduce ground soldiers in Iraq after leaving, I do support robust intelligence operations and, in some cases, limited air power in assisting the Iraqi government." His criticism of President Obama lies in the hasty retreat of US forces from Iraq, which Kinzinger believes undermined the efforts of the Bush Administration's surge. Kinzinger accuses the Obama Administration of, "short-sighted policy decisions and hurried withdrawal from the region."
In a publication printed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) titled, "Shaping Iraqi Security Forces," the authors detail how the US forces attempted to strengthen Iraqi security from within. The authors wrote, "The future US Role in shaping the Iraqi Security Forces is now limited by the failure of Iraqi and US officials to agree to terms extending the Security Agreement's mandate over US troop presence." This speaks to the core and importance the Obama Administration is placing on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Afghanistan. Officials believe that if US forces leave Afghanistan, the Afghans may suffer the same fate as Fallujah.
At the core of the problem in Iraq is continued sectarian violence spurred by Prime Minister Maliki's alienation of Iraq's Sunni population. After Saddam's Sunni regime was toppled by American led forces, The US began to back a Shia led government. Iran has benefited greatly from this shift and their relations with Iraq have drastically improved. Kenneth Pollack, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, has spoken many times about the dangers of this Sunni alienation. He has reiterated this sentiment in testimony on Capitol Hill as well as in papers such as "The Rise and Fall and Rise of Iraq", which outlines the US involvement in Iraq and how this alienation began.
The fall of Fallujah signifies much more than simply another terrorist victory. It signifies a failed US effort to rehabilitate an oppressed nation from a totalitarian regime. Now, a tyrant dictator has been replaced with a terrorist organization. It signifies a resurgent al-Qaeda after the death of their leader Osama bin Laden. It also has greater implications for the conflicts in Syria and continued efforts in Afghanistan. Right now, many officials are warning against a war within a war in Syria - rebels v. the Assad regime, and a war between groups such as al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia for territorial occupation. These terrorists groups are taking advantage of the chaos in Syria and using it to gain regional control.
The world needs to take the fall of Fallujah seriously because it may bear the fruits of a turn in the War on Terror. United States officials have stated recently that the Iraq-Syria boarder is meaningless, insinuating an easy terrorist channel between the two countries. Aside from immediate military aid, the efforts of the United States must be to rectify the relationship between Prime Minister Maliki's Shia majority and Sunni objectors. Until then, sectarian violence will only continue to worsen.