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10 Dangers in the Iraq Crisis

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“The danger from the extremist movement growing in Iraq is not just creating failed states out of Iraq and Syria but spawning a failed region,” writes Robin Wright.

The Iraq crisis–alas, how to count the calamitous ways! Here are the top 10:

1. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has become the most aggressive and ambitious extremist movement in the world. It is also the most deadly and the most accomplished, dwarfing al-Qaeda in influence and impact. And under current conditions, it looks largely unchallenged.

2. An undisciplined militia with a rigid and intolerant ideology walked over a conventional army that the U.S. trained, armed and aided—at a cost of billions of dollars. Large numbers of Iraqi forces simply took off their uniforms, dumped their equipment and fled–leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians without protection. Extremist thugs captured millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, which will only bolster their onslaught.

3. ISIS terrorizes rather than governs the turf it takes. It has little regard for human life or respect for basic rights. Its system of justice is utter injustice.

4. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shows no ability to end the crisis politically. Since taking office in 2006, Mr. Maliki has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive. He has repeatedly failed to craft a viable formula for power sharing among disparate ethnic and sectarian groups, which could have eased tensions. Instead, he has antagonized and confronted.

5. The Iraqi people are caught in the middle of all this. Hundreds of thousands have reportedly fled the new areas the ISIS has captured. Many more may follow if ISIS continues to forge ahead—and remember, the region has already shown itself unable to absorb or tend to millions of Syrian refugees.

6. Some worry that Iraq’s turmoil could lead to the collapse of the state. For now, such fears may be exaggerated. But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari conceded to European and Arabian counterparts Wednesday that the ISIS campaign is a “serious, mortal threat.”

7. ISIS could eventually reconfigure the Middle East if it is able to seize and hold significant chunks of Iraq and Syria, the Arab world’s two strategic centerpieces, spanning the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. No extremist movement has conquered so much territory in the region.

8. The danger from ISIS is not just creating failed states out of Iraq and Syria but spawning a failed region.

9. ISIS’s rise comes at a time of staggering region-wide challenges: Egypt is returning to military rule—democratically elected—under former field marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Still awaiting a new constitution, Libya’s fragile democracy is in perpetual crisis, deepened by disintegrating security, rival and rampant militias, and a renegade general. Even oil-rich Saudi Arabia is troubled, under an aging and ailing king and more than one-third unemployment among the young. The list goes on.

10. The U.S. strategy of both Republican and Democratic administrations has failed to stabilize Iraq or foster a political peace. It’s a tragic commentary after an enormous investment.

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal.

About the Author

Robin Wright image

Robin Wright

USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow;
Author and columnist for The New Yorker
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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more