The Iraqi city of Fallujah was taken over by Sunni extremists in 2004, and the U.S. Marines were sent in to take it back. They succeeded, at a cost of 95 Marines killed, thousands of Iraqi casualties and the destruction of most of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes. Now extremists have taken it over again. This time, the Marines will not be coming to the rescue, nor should they.
Recent events in Iraq underscore the folly of invading that nation in 2003 with the goal of creating a Western-style democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Experts told anyone who’d listen back then that democracy doesn’t come easily to countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Iraq had long been split by religious and tribal rivalries; it lacked the civil and voluntary institutions through which disputes are solved and people learn to work together on common problems. In its long history, Iraq had never seen elections result in the peaceful transfer of power.
A decade of hand-holding and prodding toward democracy by the U.S. hasn’t overcome those deficits. Shiite Iraqis, the majority long crushed under Saddam Hussein’s boots, won elections, but have failed to reach out to minority Sunnis and Kurds. Iraq’s parliament has been paralyzed by factionalism; corruption has eaten away at the government’s credibility. These weaknesses, along with the atrocities carried out by all sides in Iraq’s brutal civil war, have empowered Sunni radicals and other dissenters.
The violence that has rocked Iraq since the last U.S. troops left in 2010 was predictable. Despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to get out of Iraq, the administration pleaded with the Iraqi government to let some U.S. troops remain, to continue training Iraq soldiers and to intervene, if needed, to stop attacks from groups linked to terrorist organizations like al-Qaida. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to negotiate an agreement allowing the Americans to stay.
Now the violence has escalated, with an estimated 8,000 Iraqis killed last year, the highest total since 2008. Militias linked to al-Qaida are active in the war next door in Syria, and have now begun taking control of major Iraqi cities, including Fallujah and Ramadi.
But it’s up to Iraq to rescue those cities, not the U.S. America spent billions of dollars equipping and training Iraqi security forces. It’s time for them to put their lives on the line.
One hopeful sign is being seen in Syria, where “moderate” rebels have joined forces to drive al-Qaida-affiliated forces out of several cities. Islamist extremists tend to be brutal and unpopular rulers – they’ve banned smoking and brought beheadings to Syrian cities they control – and moderate Sunnis may turn on the extremists again in Iraq, as they did through the “Sunni Awakening” in 2007.
The U.S. will help Iraq push back in Fallujah and elsewere, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday, but not by sending American troops back into battle. We must not make that mistake again.
Page 2 of 2 - “This is their fight,” Kerry said, and he’s right. It always has been.
MetroWest, Mass., Daily News