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The Iraq War Is Not Over

Since the departure of U.S. troops, it’s only heated up.

Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By KIMBERLY KAGAN
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Secretary of State John Kerry has used the limited leverage that the United States has to try to stop Iraq from allowing Iranian overflights to Syria. This is the least efficient use of our leverage, even though the strategic principle is sound, because Maliki has neither the capability nor the will to stop the Iranian regime from supporting Assad. It is no surprise that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force has staged inspections of its own aircraft to prove that Iraq is not permitting arms to transit its airspace. 

There are, however, ways that the United States could use its leverage to influence the behavior of the Maliki government, although not to arrest the violence entirely. First and foremost, the United States needs to condition the provision of arms, equipment, and training to the Iraqi Security Forces on Maliki’s respect for the representative political system, humanitarian treaties Iraq has signed, and inclusive political solutions. These include dropping his legal charges against the cabinet members and protest leaders, meeting the reasonable demands of the protesters for transparency and de-Baathification measures, and implementing the promised terms of the 2010 Erbil Agreement by which he achieved the premiership. It is also vital that Maliki not tolerate Shia militant groups. 

Second, the United States can block the United Nations from lifting Iraq’s onerous Chapter VII status, even though Kuwait has at long last agreed to support the change, until Maliki makes those concessions. Those who argue that conditioning aid is difficult must note that our failure to condition our aid has empowered Maliki disproportionately. His deliberate disenfranchisement of the Sunni population is the main accelerant to insurgency in Iraq.

Iraq sits at the heart of the Middle East and straddles the sectarian divide. The United States once hoped that, with American help, Iraq could decelerate sectarian conflict, serve as a buffer against an expanding Iran, and be an ally against al Qaeda. The United States had largely achieved those political conditions—fragile though the achievement was—by the time American troops departed. But that is not the Iraq we have today. The United States must no longer imagine that it has a friendly government in Baghdad with which to work, or that Iraq is stable enough to buffer the region against the sectarian war that is brewing in its heartland.

Kimberly Kagan is the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War.

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