Iraq’s Rot Starts at the Top

Any American influence left in Iraq should focus on rebuilding the credibility of national institutions.

Comments: 154

  1. Americans have few answers and little success picking politicians who "will represent those communities’ interests, let alone the national interest."

    The American politicians who got us into the Iraq War, and kept us there, were among the worst on that score. It is no wonder their advice on that matter did not work out for Iraq either.

    "Our political class behaves as if there is no crisis, because for them, there is none" -- That is exactly how it is here in America.

    "Sadly, none of the men being considered as possible replacements for Mr. Maliki would necessarily do any better than he has." -- But see the Klown Kar of candidates we had on offer for the last Presidential Primary. Iraq can't be worse off than listening to that line up.

    "If the existential threat from ISIS isn’t enough to shake the political class into acting, nothing will."

    We might have said that about our financial crisis. But it didn't shake them into any real action.

    We have no answers for you. We're as bad off as you are, politically. If Bush had disbanded entirely all of our military and police when he did Iraq's, we'd probably look just like Iraq today, and our politicians are just as helpless.

  2. Come on, Mark, stop with the self-pity. The U.S. is nowhere near as bad off as Iraq.

  3. Little more needs to be written in this, the comment side of this web page. The Congress consists of all too many individuals who appear to be as ill informed, as unable to work with an "other", and as beholden to rich zealots as those Iraqi politicians or would be such identified by Zaid al-Ali.

    Charles Blow in his adjacent column points to the ignorance of the American people but in doing so he forgot to note that a large fraction of the Congress is no better.

    Helpless, helpless....

  4. We're headed there when we have a political party that has harmed our country and people by saying "no' to any meaningful legislation. Ryan's budget would leave all but the top 2% to fend for themselves despite devasting economic situations. Look at the loopholes in our tax code - for the betterment of those that need no more, shelter off shore while a roads and bridges are crumbling and education is flailing. The GOP will go down in history as seditious and amoral.

  5. Iraq’s situation is desperate indeed, but given the historical inability of the peoples of the region to live peacefully together, except at the point of dictator’s gun, at this point what can the United States or any other nation do to foster a political climate of tolerance, respect, and honesty?

    The answer is nothing.

    That’s the lesson of our 11-year war in that country. Only the Iraqis can save their country. Ifthey won’t, or cannot, so be it. The US is not an international foster parent.

    A break-up of Iraq along sectarian lines might be more practical than expecting its feckless “political class” to be any different from what it has been for decades. The region embraced by Iraq has seen sectarian conflict for over one thousand years. We foolishly tried to change its course, and we failed. Iraq is over for us.

    Humanitarian aid and an air campaign that prevents genocide in the short term is a good thing. We can do that. But the big fight must be left to the people whose lives are immediately at stake. It’s their fight, not ours.

  6. The process of balkanisation of Iraq through igniting the sectarian faultlines that was set in motion under the US occupation and further strengthened by the Maliki regime seems to have reached a logical culmination with the ISIS threat providing a pretext for the US intervention to shepherd the Kurds towards their own separate state. It seems impossible to reverse the tide at this juncture now.

  7. Yeah, Iraq's rot starts at the top and its situation is desperate. Ditto for Afghanistan. Untold corruption and sectarian violence presents a challenge for either of these countries to be put back on a sound democratic footing.

  8. Wonderful preaching on "national institutions," as if these can somehow be conjured up from the ether in an Iraq which -- thanks in no small part to the quality of the American invasion -- is riven along sectarian and regional lines. Who has the credibility to shape institutions that are above those divisions ? Meanwhile, US "humanitarianism" extends only to Kurds and occasionally Christian Iraqis, which plays quite nicely at home. While ISIL was terrorizing the rest of Iraq, and Syria, all we got from Mr. Obama were lectures on inclusive governance (which hardly seems to work for the President himself !). This much the author gets right: government by religious affiliation is going to fix nothing.

  9. I appreciate the thoughtful analysis of the politics in Iraq about which I know little. The various candidate possibilities do not look that strong, but this seems to be a reasonable outline of necessary steps. The situation in Iraq is dire. Hopefully, the government will form and assume responsibility before too many more innocents die.

  10. "Our political class behaves as if there is no crisis, because for them, there is none: If it comes to it, they can pack their bags and leave with their families."

    This is a good description of the American political class as well.

    Americans should think about the notion that if were not for a combination of myth, blind luck and a generally compliant populace , we could be in the same fix as Iraq.

  11. It is disappointing to say that this was all predicted in 2007 and 2008. The conduct of the war in its entire length was exceedingly shoddy from the leadership and political side, and many of the mistakes were amateurish. Many of those partisan zealots that were sent over to 'rebuild' Iraq should not have been let off the city block. Unfortunately soldiers died for those mistakes. It seems like the only purpose for the war was to keep Halliburton profitable, and Dick Cheney's earnings up.

    No, there are no answers coming from the United States, and if we did manage to have any kind of answer, our rot in congress would find a way to sabotage it as a "Political Statement". Seldom have political statements brought any answers or solutions, but only more of the same. .

  12. I haven't heard anyone mention it but the US should learn from Iraq. It looks like our government is headed down the same path as Iraq, no compromise, rule by one ethnic group exclusively.

  13. The rot may start at the top, but it extends down pretty deep. Malaki and the others didn't come out of a vacuum.

    Iraq, if it is to have any chance to hold together, needs both leadership with extraordinary wisdom and administrative competence, and some feeling of 'us' in popular sentiment. But by Mr. Al-Ali's own description, there is an utter dearth of decent leadership in Iraq outside of Kurdistan, and none of the three ethnic groups has shown a willingness to lift a finger to help the others unless their own necks are at stake. At best, they may cobble together some working arrangement in the face of the common ISIS threat. But I don't have any hope for Iraq lasting as a unified nation-state

  14. Iraq may not survive as a unified nation state.

    But unless all the factions and interests cooperate, there will be no un-unified nations, Sunni, Shia, Kurd. There may only be the Islamic State.

  15. President Barzani today declared in an interview with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius "We are not fighting a terrorist organisation, we are fighting a terrorist state". He is recognizing the obvious, the geo-politcal entity called Iraq no longer exists. ISIS controls territory equal in size to Belgium.

    Maliki sent tanks into the streets of Baghdad today, to let Iraqis know he will never give up power. He did not send the forces north to fight the ongoing ISIS genocide of the Iraqi people. He apparently doesn't care what happens to minorities in the north. Two days ago Maliki grudgingly sent one plane load of ammunition to the Kurds. The Kurds are the only force providing protection and aid to tens of thousands of Iraqi's facing death and homelessness.

    The author of this Op-Ed is correct, the rot starts at the top. Cut Maliki and his corrupt and incompetent cronies loose, let them fight over control of the Green Zone. The US must face the reality that Iraq is already divided into 3 political entities. Stop blocking the Kurds right to sell their oil and purchase weapons to defend themselves and the refugees seeking aid. The Kurds deserve the autonomy to rule without interference from the fools and shills who quibble in Baghdad.

  16. For clarification:

    Masoud Barzani is President of the Kurdish Region.

    Fuad Masum is President of Iraq.

  17. It's much easier to topple a regime with bombs than to build a stable country. But building is not a manly enough pursuit for the likes of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

  18. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the author's words. He states that the existence of Iraq is in dire jeopardy. He is arguing that the only solution for Iraq a political one. But there is no political framework from which such a solution can be launched. He also states that all of the current political actors are hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

    An external invading force has conquered huge sections of land and are imposing their own rule upon the people.

    If all leaders are corrupt and/or incompetent, if there is no functioning political system in place to provide government, if much of the land has fallen under siege from outside invaders, then it appears Mr. al-Ali has demonstrated that his fears have come to fruition. Iraq no longer exists.

  19. We can't even figure out how to solve some of our horrific immigration problems...which we love to see in ethnic rather than political terms...and Congressional action is either big mouth stuff or paralysis. This is a totally tragic situation brought on in large part by American duplicity and, I must say, stupidity. While one cannot but feel sorry for the ISIS victims and support the rather short of breath Obama response we are in the middle of of a historical cataclysm in part of our own making. The choice is to waffle with air strikes or 'man up' as an imperial power and line up allies to conquer the place.

  20. We can't keep beating a dead horse and be surprised that we don't get any results. Iraq is broken, the Shiites of Iraq don't really know how to fight, but yet they want to control. It blows me away how lazy that they are, staring into the face of death coming at them.
    They are like immature children who can't make up their mind. I don't know how we can expect anything positive yet along decisive from them. The government of Iraq seems to be a bunch of people just trying to figure out how to steal as much as possible before fleeing the country. The greedier ones will die there because of trying to gather too much loot.
    We need to support, arm and help the Kurds. Let the ISIS take the southern part of the country, then let the Kurds take it back with out help. ISIS is a whole 20,000 at the max poorly trained fighters with limited weapons and financing. Their weapons will need maintenance. The Taliban in Afganistan were more than 150,000 strong when we defeated them with air power and special forces.
    Obama just need to make a real decision and get the job done. Then things will continue to shake themselves out in that part of the world. This latest involvement of our power won't be the last. Really, we need to just greatly increase our own oil and gas production so we don't have to go there again.

  21. There never has been a viable Iraq. All of the false blabber about protecting or building democracy has obscured the fact that it never existed and only the historical obfuscations of the. British and the Americans have allowed this fact to fester. Give each entity it's due and keep London and Washington out of the kitchen. Mike Foster

  22. Would that it were that simple, since ISIS has other ideas, and they do not include allowing other entities to have their due.
    That would not work well with the current caliphate and future expanded one.

  23. Mr. al - Ali,
    I feel for you and all the innocent people of Iraq, I do. We never should have invaded your country. Saddam was a sick, violent man but that was for the Iraqis to take care of, not us.

    That said, I can't imagine wanting to put more American lives at risk or billions of dollars into Iraq again. Our American servicemen and women died for nothing over there. The country is a disaster, you have said so yourself. The army fled the ISIS.

    You said that Iraq's problems are not primarily religious. I would beg to differ. You have two religions factions killing each other. Any religion that oppresses women, education, free thought, free press, and progressive growth, economically, technologically, and medically, is hindering the growth of a country.

    Any religion that keeps people in the dark ages is hindering the growth of a country. Any religion that condones violence, child brides, burkas, and stoning will not progress.

    The Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting forever. There is no indication it will stop. The ISIS has to be destroyed, that's a given, but I don't know why you would object to Iraq's borders being re drawn. A place for the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis.

    It's like trying to divide children who keep fighting, only with weapons. You put them in separate corners and keep them away from each other.

    You have given us a long list about why this and that won't work. It has never worked. Surely it's time to think of trying something new?

  24. While Iraq would supposedly be re-establishing national institutions that treat all citizens on an equitable and equal basis, ISIS et al. will become stronger, and the Kurds, who will perhaps hold them off for a while, will become more assertive in their demands for independence, pulling at the integrity of a supposedly united Iraq.

    ISIS has changed the reality on the ground. They will not go away unless totally defeated, which is unlikely. They will just grow, even if held at bay every now and then.They will eventually prevail. They are the new and future Iraq.

  25. The author paints a picture of unchained corruption and incompetence. Yet he holds out desperate hope for a salvaging of something called "Iraq", a hope that is ludicrous on its face when it must be based on the material that is available.

    Creating national institutions that have inherent strength is a process that requires generations. Similarly, minimizing corruption and patent incompetence in government requires just as long a baseline and intensity of effort to develop and impose the required controls, transparency and sophistication in the people capable of measuring competence.

    If "Iraq" cannot do that itself, there is no other nation or group of nations on Earth patient enough to invest the time and resources to do it for them, or even to guide them at risk of blood and fortune for decades.

    The better question is why is "Iraq" a nation at all? What common interests do the Shi'a, the Sunnis, the Kurds and the multiplicity of minorities have that would argue for a "nation". The three major divisions at least have either religion or ideology, as well as geography, to bind them, and Mr. al-Maliki no longer has anything to say about arming the Sunnis -- the Sunnis that are there may actually eat HIS lunch. Even if ISIS is routed, even exterminated, Sunnis will remain, and they'll have the arms ISIS left behind.

    "Iraq" already is Humpty-Dumpty, and not the Shi'a nor America can put it back together again. Neither the Sunnis nor the Kurds even want to.

  26. Every crisis creates its own leader, Iraq should elect a Shia moderate who must be around. Even Maliki could be the person if he has learnt from his past mistakes and take others along with him. The Iraqi leader must be chosen by Iraqis alone. Iraq has been a great civilization, it must again rise to its height, all its people, irrespective of individual religious beliefs and practices, must rise to the level of thinking about the country in its entirety, its past glory, and about its potential to again shine on the hill! You can do it, Iraq!

  27. This is a fascinating but depressing overview of the present condition of the Iraqi government and its recent history, leading up to the current situation which seems well described as desperate. Avarice appears to have set in big time to the detriment of most of the population and the question is: Is there an honest man/men to lead honestly? Iraq had an educated citizenry, in Baghdad especially, before the invasion in 2003; there must be some who will come forward, rise to the occasion and lead, although the task is daunting in the extreme. The current Prime Minister does not at all seem up to the task.

    It is particularly frustrating that "oil revenues are being shared, and there is enough money to finance government operations", so that lack of finances is not an excuse for the current failure to move forward.. I still remember the glimpses we caught of the cargo holds of 747's loaded to capacity with cash, bound for Baghdad. Where o where did it all go? Throwing money at a problem just doesn't substitute for good judgement and decision making. We were very poor models in carelessly pouring money into the country. And attempting to set up a stock market in Baghdad is an example of how far off track we went and how little we knew about what we were doing.

    The Iraqi people have been through so much in the past twelve years, They deserve a break and better leadership.

  28. the iraq people have been suffering a long time -- read recently that three million of the country's most capable citizens left during the sactions we imposed in the '90's. we have destroyed that country -- just like we did vietnam. do not understand how our government could make two such tragic errors in one woman's lifetime. we must be fools.

  29. August 11, 20014

    There is not now or in the past an Iraq people that wasn't at each other throats with killing eath other.
    America made sure there wasn't WMD and as well confirmed to the world what this rot was but a hell hole on earth that is gaga. Kuwait was the even that change the Gulf and Iraq especially and who's to operate on the cancer of hate is for all to do what? Monitor the weapons and the potential for transnational attacks and just have the joys of history go about the nature to find the just events - What is now life media is our modern world living with the rot that is magnified and 24/7 but best to stay with the journalism and avoid the shock media wherever. The times always find the balance as if a state of nature and hell or high water our will goes on as it was and maybe for a better reality soon.

  30. The Iraqi people absolutely deserve better leadership but these citizens have not evolved and still believe all the propaganda from their government and their religious leaders, and therefore, they will not receive good impartial leadership.

    The ignorance of the majority, not educated, is the bottom line and until they give up their fearsome religious beliefs, nothing will change. It is this way all over the middle east - religious clinging, uneducated people. I do not see any near future changes for the better.

  31. So let me get this straight. Somehow the US is called upon to strengthen the national institutions of Iraq? In the absence of any leaders who are willing, qualified, or positioned to do the same? Are you serious?

    If the primary problems of this country are political, then politics are the way they should be solved. If Iraqis want their country to continue to exist, then they have to make an effort.

    This pathetic plea for a kind of assistance no foreign power can reasonably provide says everything about what is wrong with this country. And so much that is wrong there is our fault.

    The fact is that although through a terribly misguided imperialist initiative we broke the state that was functioning under Saddam, we do not have the resources to fix it.

  32. Mr. Ali's analysis may be correct, however, he dose not suggest any clear way forward. Iraqi's political class is rotten, and there are no institutions capable of bringing together the it's diverse religious, ethnic and political factions. To make matters worse, with Mr. Maliki refusing to step down, it now seems possible that Iraq is now facing the possibility of another civil war, within a civil war. Sadly, this will not have a good ending, because even if ISIS is beaten back, a Shia-centric government will never be acceptable to many other Iraqis, and given their behavior, such a view is reasonable.
    For a any nation to exist, it must have at least some shared vague kind of national identity. It cannot only be based on some overarching, system of laws and institutions, for if that were the case, there would be no reason for nationhood, and clearly that is not the world order of today. Iraq's borders were decided by the colonial powers of a previous century, and unlike those of most other nations, have no basis in reality, and will remain unstable forever; and that's a long time!

  33. " Any American influence left in Iraq should focus on "

    The Peshmerga , the rest can fumble their own way to doom.

    Two administrations have had 12 years to figure this out, and it seems a day/week/month/year/decade longer won't budge this an inch.

    We could have won WW2 three times if politicians thought it was "that" important. The sequester has pronounced that level of interest very clearly.

  34. Actually, the writer Zaid al-Ali, has not mentioned the hidden American agenda: split the country into three parts and thereby making it weak.

  35. As if it is strong now, right? Your comment shows the success of the brainwashing by politicians in that part of the world, who blame "the American conspiracy" for their failures.

  36. Akhtar, I respectfully disagree with you. Though many of us think that Iraq should split itself in 3 ways, the policy of the US government is quite the opposite, for reasons I don't fully understand.

  37. The problem of Iraq are the Iraqis. They are incapable of building a functional society on any assistance the outside world provides them, and bring upon themselves a chronic state of disaster whenever they are left to their own devices. It is time for them to help themselves and live with the consequences.

  38. "If the existential threat from ISIS isn’t enough to shake the political class into acting, nothing will."

    I think the coming days will prove "nothing will."

  39. Let's hope you succeed. When you get done rebuilding trust in Iraq's national institutions, by all means come on and help us rebuild ours here. It's in tatters.

  40. It's good to hear quality analysis of the situation. Good to find your website and I have your book on the way to me. Thanks for the picture.

    You know your experience makes me think you'd be a perfect candidate for leadership anywhere in the region.


  41. The picture Mr. al-Ali paints of the situation in Iraq is so bleak, one wonders why America should involve itself at all at this point. If the specter of ISIS overrunning the capital is not enough to motivate Iraqi politicians to work for the best interests of their country, then nothing will work. Let the chips fall where they must. America has shed enough blood and spent enough money trying to resurrect a country which it destroyed in 2003. The best course is for America to not involve itself any further.

    It is certainly true that America under the leadership of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld created the horrible situation we see today. But it is impossible to go back in time and undo that. If Iraqis cannot solve the situation themselves, then nothing else will help.

  42. "Iraq’s problems are not primarily religious (as Westerners so often believe) or economic (oil revenues are being shared, and there is enough money to finance government operations). They are, as always, is political."

    In other words, self-interest, the perks of power, trump the common good. Iraq is so fractured along religious, ethnic and tribal lines that anything resembling representative democracy has no chance to take root and flourish.

  43. "In other words, self-interest, the perks of power, trump the common good. Iraq is so fractured along religious, ethnic and tribal lines that anything resembling representative democracy has no chance to take root and flourish."

    Yup. Just like in the U.S. of A.

    Our founding fathers common good has long been trampled by the pursuit of the mighty dollar.

  44. When I worked with the OECD development ministers to discuss the aftermath of Iraq, I was astonished at how hard it was to convince State and other foreign ministries on the fool hardiness of creating governance system drawn along religious-sectaran lines. Imagine if each state senate in the US A had per centage representation of each religion? It mocks the idea that in a democracy we are not winner takes all because therein lies the end of the democracy. Compromise and dialogue are what Iraq needs to forge state institutions that uphold the needs and rights of all citizens regardless of creed.

  45. Yeah, good luck with that. Democracy won't work in this region. How many times does this need to be proven?

  46. We have no dialogue and negotiation and compromise in our Congress, thanks to the GOP, party of "no".

  47. The arguments and facts put forth in this essay support dividing Iraq along sectarian and religious lines.

  48. Facts? Gee, I didn't notice any.

  49. The Home Page lede pretty much says it all: "Any American influence left in Iraq...." It is difficult to envision for whom in Iraq America has any credibility.

    Except, possibly, with I.S.I.S., a conclusion drawn from the August 32, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal which editorialized, "It was most gratifying to learn that, upon their arrival in Baghdad, I.S.I.S. is planning to erect a statue in honor of George W. Bush in the spot where the infamous statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down. It is most heartwarming to see how an American President is acknowledged and appreciated by foreigners, who fully understand that without him their organization would not exist, let alone be so successful."

  50. Iraq's rot starts in Crawford, Texas.

  51. It is about time the Middle East stop burdening the rest of the world with their bigotries, religious fanattism, intolerance, middle age mentality and inability to come to a table and negoticate anything. It is time for countries like Iraq and Syria to solve their own problems and not use Americans as a free airforce. It is time for the people to stand for what they believe, and stop allowing thugs to run their country. We cannot solve everyone's problems.
    But I can tell you one thing, here in America, perhaps unlike any other country you can walk down a street and see Muslims, Christians, Jews,Atheists, and numerous religious attending services without hurting each other. Perhaps you should learn something from us and stop expecting monetary help. Help yourselves, we Americans have had enough.

  52. You dismiss the "fanaticism" the West has on the largest resources of energy which is why we spend trillions in the Middle East. Without such energy to turn the wheels of global economy, the world would come to a halt.

    You sound as if America is being taking advantage of by Middle Easterners yet it is the US that has killed 100,000 Iraqis, that has used drones that have killed civilians in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, that has created the chaos in Libya that led to Ghaddai's arsenal to leak out to arm ISIS . Going back decades we overthrew the one democratically elected leader of Iran to put the despotic Shah back on the throne. You ignore our role in the region we try to control but generally fail in helping ourselves or the people in the Middle East.

  53. We were a big factor in Iraq's current problems. But that does mean we are capable of helping. We are not. It may be difficult for us to admit, but the power of the United States is limited. At this point we can only make a bad situation worse.

  54. Just like in the US at the banking, corporate and government levels.

  55. The author has neglected to mention the Kurds. The United States can and should support more autonomy for them, justified by the genocide they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the total lack of support for them from Nuri al Maliki's regime. The arguments against regional autonomy he makes -- about politicians picking fleeing the scene with their families, or the fair sharing of oil revenues by al Maliki's regime -- are simply untrue with respect to the Kurds. And their pesh merga did not flee the Islamic State onslaught as did the Iraqi Army, leaving behind heavy armaments and equipment supplied by Americans. It is clear that 'the existential threat from ISIS' will not shake the political class in Baghdad into acting, and so as the author himself concludes 'nothing will.' Under such circumstances, direct support to the Kurds is more than justified.

  56. America's famous export, democracy, seems to be a faulty product with development problems. Taking it back to the factory can not help much because no one knows where to find it , pick it up and bring it back for overhaul.
    Global reach of the US army from the enormous amount of bases it already has and it's planning of new ones, will lead the globe where? The present process of getting Ukrain into US led Nato will it produce something else than in Iraq? Even worse probably and even more instability. Without saying that the USA should become insular, we may conclude that the US should become far, I mean FAR less intrusive. Many if not most of its adventures outside its own borders since the second WW led to mayhem , savage regime changes and long lasting turmoil. Some one in DC should get worried.

  57. "America's famous export, democracy, seems to be a faulty product with development problems."

    That's an understatement. Did you hear John McCain saying that we had to support the military coup in Egypt that deposed a democratically elected government only 6 months in office to "support" democracy?

    Do they even listen how ridiculous they sound?

  58. Your politicians have all sort of words to describe the support and the creation of support for US friendly regimes. One of these words is 'democracy' , another is 'security, and another again is 'protection'.

  59. As a Vietnam veteran, I've had it with Iraqi and American politicians. I knew the Iraq War would be a foreign policy debacle. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution reminded me of the Iraq War resolution. And I saw exactly the same flaws which Mr. Zaid el-ALI writes about in this op-ed when I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. The South Vietnamese leaders and politicians were just as corrupt as the Iraqi politicians are. The soldiers in the South Vietnamese army had little or no espirit de corps as the Iraqi soldiers have.

    But I support President Obama's air strikes against the jihadists to prevent genocide and arming the peshmerga with more weapons and war materiel to save the Kurds, who do have a viable nation-state worthy of our aid. But the rest of Iraq? Get your act together.

    And I have had it with my fellow American citizens. Bring back the draft. All eligible men and women. And no exemptions for citizens who have "other priorities." My fellow citizens have gotten a free ride for too long when it comes to war. They are sunshine patriots.They have no skin in the game sitting up in the bleachers cheering or protesting the war. The sixties are dead. Get over it. The real drama of shared sacrifice is down on the playing field.

    And this is beyond partisan politics and political ideology. Positions on war have become marketing campaigns as if they are selling points for a new lifestyle designer drug. Bring back the citizen/soldier. Before the next war.

  60. Thank you George. There could not be a simpler and clearer solution to U.S. foreign policy than this.

    Now if only those rats in congress would have the courage.

  61. Excellent posting.

  62. Well said. US war Industry wanted and still wants our Tax money! War = PROFITS.

  63. I must be missing something. Why is creation of a 3 country partition, one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurdish, something that is unimaginable. It is pretty clear that no Iraq leader will ever give shared power to ethnic groups different from him (yes there is also a male oriented culture in all 3). The breakup of Yugoslavia has worked pretty well for all 3 ethnic groups. Why not Iraq?

  64. The reasonable argument is that three states in Iraq--Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish--would never trust each other enough to co-exist tin peace, that each in protecting its people, resources and identity would have an army and the three would only fight each other. Also the majority of Iraqis seem to be against a
    tripartite division.

  65. The US HAS DONE ENOUGH. The UN WMD inspection team led by Hans Blix told Bush CHENEY in Feb 2003 that they had gone to EVERY ONE of the sites mentioned by SecState Powell in his UN speech and found NO WMD. Bush attacked anyway and then spent $ 660 mil in a WMD HUNT that proved Blix right. Bush then said he was bringing democracy to Iraq. Iraqies have no history of democratic governance; and yet we think we need to help them get it. Iraqies have their own choice to make. We have done enough. Let them decide and we will deal with the gov't they choose. No more propping up.

  66. US war Industry wanted and still wants our Tax money! War = PROFITS. Get it?

  67. Today's Iraq is not a nation-state. It is a legacy of the Ottoman Empire and lines drawn on a map by an Anglo-French duo, Sykes-Picot, after the collapse of that empire. That it held together for so long after the departure of the colonial powers after WW2 is testament to brutal leadership by its own leaders followed by hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at it by the US taxpayer for the past 11 years.

    Enough is enough. Its time to split the country into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish nation states and let the smaller sects like Yizadis find a home in one of the three. The Iraqi shias, although Arabs, will likely come under the protection of their Persian coreligionists. The rest of the Arab world and the West will need to come to terms with this. Kurds, for the moment, seem to be getting it right although in the longer term they would need to find better accommodation with both Turkey and Iran. The US, along with its regional allies, will do well to support and protect a Sunni state along the western half of Iraq.

    Iraq, as we have known it, is dead. Time to cut losses and move on and involve the local powers in the solution.

  68. We are now supposed to put Iraq on a sensible political course, when we weren't able to do so in over a decade with a large US troop presence? Preposterous.

  69. Whose country is it? Together with Kerry's ultimatum to Maliki, this opinion is another evidence that there is no such country as Iraq any more in people's minds. That is why foreign policymakers are behaving as if they are entitled to have an opinioin over the country's future. However, trying to patch up some semblance of a country will only serve policymakers' excuses but will have tragic consequences for everybody elese.

  70. Is al-Maliki sensible enough to think of Iraq's future? An Islamist insurgency in the North is approaching Baghdad.
    Shia parties have just nominated an alternative candidate - deputy parliament speaker Haider al-Abadi - as new PM. Yet the embattled Maliki, who faces calls to step down has made it clear he wants to stand for a third term, and he urged security forces to take key sites in Baghdad.

  71. The Sunnis and Shia have been hating and killing each other for centuries.

    Now it is going to stop with better government?

    Dream on!

  72. Such cliches as the the Sunni and Shi'a hating and killing each other
    is Western ignorance of Islamic history when in fact throughout 1400 years of Islamic history both sects have more often than not lived in peace. Reasons for wars among Islamic nations have been geo-political, no less than wars fought elsewhere. Feebly trying to grasp at what they don't understand, people say the conflicts are over religion.

    And now the strife is within Sunni and also within Shi'a as much as against one another. Sunni al-Qaeda, of which the ISIS is an offshoot, has denounced ISIS. al-Sadrs' Shi'a army in Iraq distinguishes itself from government forces of the Shi'a Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. In the past the Ottoman Empire incorporated Sunni and Shi'a communities throughout the Mediterranean for centuries and in peace.

    Since oil was discovered in the Middle East the ones killing Muslims are more likely coming from the West. As Madeleine Albright admitted it was in her opinion worth the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children for us to rid Iraq of Saddam
    Hussein, a despot yes but someone who had no weapons of mass destruction or ties to al-Qaeda but, alas, incredibly huge resources of oil.

    Time for Westerns to understand an area they are so involved with and start
    by dropping cliches that sound "smart" only to the ignorant.

  73. So you try to convince the Sunnis and Shia to stop killing each other because you really understand them. Please!

  74. Oh, here we go again. More popular myths and excuses. Were the Shia and Sunni of Iraq at each others throats before the Americans came with their dreams of democratization in a couple of years? No. They were living in peaceful coexistence all over Iraq in mixed neighbourhoods. It took American ignorance and stupidity to rekindle ancient hatreds here.

  75. Mr Al Ali's words here, and the Iraq he portrays in his book on the same subject, resonate with anyone who lives in a country where graft is the key to everything, from buying a judge to securing the support of a local government official to perform even be most menial tasks. Corruption breeds ineptitude of institutions, and deep cynicism of the population.
    The one area where the USA truly leads the world is in its ability to build transparent and functioning institutions, and private competition. It is a shame that the US squandered the opportunity to lead the institutional reconstruction that Iraq needed.

  76. There is no viable political options when you are staring down the business end of a stolen American weapon. A Kurdistan state is the only reasonable solution. There was a chance 5 years ago but it was squandered. Iraq is dead.

  77. After ten years of engagement in Iraq the decision makers, have made it very apparent in the partisan noise being created in Washington, that they still don't understand the region. Debating talking points, positioning a partisan point of view, scoring cheap shots is not conducive to solving the problem.

    Institution building a society in one' s own mirror is bound to fail when you do not account for the ground realities. A society that has been dysfunctional for centuries cannot morph into a working western model in zero time.

    This is what the "informed" pundits in Washington are advocating without understanding that nation building works on a society which will be receptive to ideas & change. If the same ( informed pundits) people with their smart intelligent ways of Analytics and politics cannot change a dysfunctional Washington, how do they expect to change a obscurantist society/ nation.

    I have limited opinions on the best course of action but do know that blaming and hyper talking partisan politics coupled with an ignorant worldview will not change anything. It will only cost the USA additional trillion of dollars in nation building that we can ill afford nor will it be well received.

  78. Defend the religious minorities and the Kurds, let the Shiites and Sunni extremists go down in flames.

  79. Yet another very compelling argument for why the United States should get out of the entire Middle East, and NEVER return for any reason.

    We don't know what we are doing
    We don't know who our enemies are
    We don't know who our allies are (hint: we have no allies there. They use us for weapons, we use them for Oil)

    We simply go in a'charging and a'blasting, forcing regime and government changes; arming people we shouldn't arm... and then we act surprised when it turns out worse than before.

    We need to exit, and wall off the West from the entire Middle East. We must let them figure out their own destiny, just as Old Europe had to do the last millenium. There will be much sadness and bloodshed. There will be atrocities. I'm sure it will result in some autocratic theocratic government we hate.

    But there is nothing America can do about it. We only make it worse and make them hate us.

  80. I certainly see the attraction of the position being expressed here that The US should withdraw and let the Iraqi's fight it out until they have a new government or governments, and then deal with that (them). However, it appears that such a strategy may well leave us looking into the cold eyes of ISIS. We need to know:

    1. Who are these people who compose ISIS?
    2. They are fairly heavily armed (artillery, trucks, full panoply of small arms and plenty of ammo) and apparently well provisioned. These things are expensive, so who financed it, who supplies it?
    3. And, even more important than #2, the corollary questions, why? and how?

    I am really going to find it hard to support extended military action against an enemy unknown to me, with backers unknown, and goals largely unknown. I do not think that quantities of military hardware and supplies on a scale need to keep an outfit like ISIS in the field can be purchased and transported w/o creating a trail discernible by professional intelligence operatives of powers like the US and it's NATO allies. So, what is it? Are we wasting billions on spy agencies not worth their salt, or does our government already know the answers but is withholding the information from the American people?

  81. ISIS backers are Saudi Arabia. They want to guarantee safety for their pipeline through that region. Its always about money.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$...

  82. The reason why the U.S. has all along been unwilling to support the breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines seems to be the belief that a separate Shiite state would almost instantaneously become an Iran ally (even more so than Iraq as it is now). I'm no fan of Iran, but it seems clear that our entrapment in over a decade of "axis of evil" rhetoric has kept us from being willing to consider the pragmatic case for partition. Thus, we're on the verge of something worse: a separate Sunni state dominated by terrorists.

  83. Throughout history, Iraq could only be governed by strongmen. The history of the country is not suited for democracy. For good or for bad, saddam must be missed right now, including by the Americans whose policy makers had no clue they will be creating a disaster for years to come.

  84. The breakup of Iraq is now in motion.

    Saudi Arabia paid for the rights with their ISIS financing and organization to enable their pipeline to Europe thru Iraq and Eastern Syria.

    The Kurds get the north and cooperate with the US base installations and Iran gets the rest. The virtues of this solution could have been 15 years ago - but money had to be made by the USA in the interim.

    why not recognize the Putin solution for the Federalization of Ukraine so the East Uk can move on. Same issues of deep ethnic differences from the Fascist American collaborators in Kiev.

    But does the overriding objective of the USA "chosen few" making money and NATO taking the border override common sense?

  85. Zaid al-Ali, your conclusions are just so wrong!

    If the past 11 years have proved anything, it is that the Bush/Cheney of the Iraq War was wrong, and illegal, and Bush and Cheney should have been tried before an international war tribunal as war criminals.

    President Obama was wrong to continue the war and escalate it and is wrong with his new military intervention back into Iraq.

    Iraq's issues are Iraq's issues. Its ongoing religious conflicts are Iraq's conflicts nor ours!

    History has shown that Iraq never should have been forced to become a country. There never will be a political solution in Iraq because of all of the religious bigotry and hatred that goes back a thousand years or more.

    We need to pull out of Iraq now completely, just as we did in Vietnam and let the Iraqi people or its Arab neighbors fight for a solution.

    We need to stop our insanity and get out of Iraq!

  86. if we did get out of Iraq, it would be the first time since the end of WWII.

  87. Only with billions of permanent, tax payer funded American Armies and bases left behind to protect the countries the USA re-made by war (South Korea and West Germany come to mind) do any of our war-torn 'allies' have a chance to succeed.
    The rest fail.

  88. "...a cure that would be worse than the disease: a breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines."

    Has the author looked at a map recently? The breakup has already happened.

  89. You want advice on how to govern from the United States?That might be a good idea if we ever learn how to govern ourselves. Fair advice from a country where our leaders conduct themselves with vitriol and accusation?Sounds unrealistic.

  90. Hear we go again!! Once again all alone. This time not even the Brits are willing to help. If ISIS will be so harmful for everyone ware are the Turks, Saudis, Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, all the NATO countries ect. ect. ect. All have sophisticated Air forces and other weapons we have sold them and are in more risk from ISIS than the US. Tell McCain, Graham and Peter King to tell these other countries to help rather than carp about the US millinery again doing everything.

  91. Actually, the British have dropped aid once so far. This past weekend the RAF successfully delivered water and solar lanterns to the trapped Yazidi refugees on Saturday, but had to abort a second flight because so many refugees had crowded below the drop zone the pilots feared the huge parachute pallets would crush some of them.

    But yes -- where is the Arab League, the EU, the rest of the world.

  92. The US "millinery?"

    Was this comment ghosted by Emily Litella?

    "What's all this I fuss I hear about saving Soviet jewelry?"

  93. Hello Zaid. A little research made me aware of your roots in Iraq, particularly the stormy diplomatic career that your father had. But we're here to discuss what becomes of Iraq now. Indeed the plan to split Iraq into 3 sectarian regions has been tossed around since before the US invasion in 2003. The idea was born in exile between Ahmad Chalabi and the two disputing Kurdish groups. All were seeking selfish gains out of the fall of a unified Iraq.

    I was writing a short article about Ahmad Chalabi who gave the the US neocons ( Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Perle) the information about the fictional the fictional WMDs that Saddam had, bringing down Iraq all together. Now he has the nerve to seek the upcoming PM position following the imminent exist of Nuri al-Maliki. But that slippery reptile will not succeed. His hissing and odor seem to precede him wherever he goes.

    Well, the 1500 char limit does not allow me to get into intricate details here, but why don't you run for the PM position there. In my view you're more qualified than any of the jokers there, and certainly lack their colorful past. I think your dad was a good man who stuck to principle, rejected the war with Iran that the US instigated, and was exiled as a result. You already have the winning formula of unity in Iraq & nationalism above sectarianism.

    It is not easy, and that's why Saddam ruled with an iron fist to make it possible. But I'm sure your father and you have better ideas.

  94. Any thorough examination of Iraq will reveal disfunction, corruption, and ...rot. Got it.

    What I find amazing is that so many American "leaders" continue to argue for a military response to this situation. Insistence upon a policy that has failed repeatedly is pretty insane.

    First of all, NO American leader is going to put troops on the ground in the Middle East. The public will not tolerate that. But the right, and now Ms Clinton, posture and speak like hawks. Please. None of those people would--given the reins of govt--act much differently than Obama. They also would do everything they could to get out of the Middle East.

    Obama's admission that Iraq has blown an opportunity to be a nation state is refreshing. Ronal Reagan is not remembered for walking away from Beirut in 1983. And Bill Clinton is not remembered for leaving Somalia. But neither is remembered for the long term engagement and failures those situations well could have been.

    Obama is going to do business with Iran, as Nixon did business with China. That is the response to ISIS. Not pretty, but it beats other alternatives.

  95. The tragedy in Iraq was brought about by their own leaders by following a non-inclusive policy and leaving out Sunnis from the political dispensation. Banking on the United Sates to rescue Iraq will be a futile exercise as the schism between Shiites and the Sunnis has grown far apart and is irreparable. ISIS took full advantage of the prevailing situation by getting the full support of the Sunnis. However, Sunnis should realize that ISIS will take them back to medieval times.

    The US can, at best, provide air support and humanitarian relief for Yazidis, Kurds, Arab Christians who have fled from being persecuted by ISIS. Iraqis have to be bold enough to form a new government and elect a new president who is acceptable to all the communities. However, things have gone far beyond to bring about sanity in Iraq. I agree with the author that an attempt should be made to build democratic institutions to bring back people who had completely lost faith in Maliki's government. If this is not one, Iraq will be dismembered along ethnic and religious lines, which will not be in the interest of all the communities.

  96. Between 1918-1924 British and French bureaucrats deliberately destroyed the Ottoman Empire's governorate system in the Levant. They redrew boundaries to create five new, historically fictional notional states that we now call "Iraq", "Syria", "Lebanon", "Jordan" and "Palestine". They promised the Jews and Kurds their own states too, only to renege. Winston Churchill, a participant in the negotiations, later described it as the greatest mistake of his life.

    The new design did not meet the needs and aspirations of the inhabitants of that region. Boundaries were drawn and redrawn to better suit European economic interests centered around access to oil. Sunni Al-Anbar ended up inside Shiite Iraq instead of remaining in Sunni Mesopotamia (Assyria) because Britain demanded its oil ouput.

    The region has been war-torn along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines ever since. Even the seemingly insoluble "Arab-Israeli" conflict should be seen through that prism: fundamentally, a struggle over land and water rights between different Semitic tribes.

    The long-term solution is a return to the discarded Ottoman governorate system. The tribes, clans, ethnicities and religious sects self-govern in their own homelands, in a loose confederation. Otherwise, it's more of the same: corrupt, tyrannical regimes ruled by dictators, diverse populations terrorized into submission by militias and the secret police; or perpetual internecine warfare.

    It's either/or. There is no third way.

  97. "Dick Cheney Five Years Ago: ‘We Will, In Fact, Be Greeted As Liberators’"

    Uh huh.

  98. "Iraq’s problems are not primarily religious (as Westerners so often believe).."

    Try telling that to one of the ISIS thugs and you will have your head removed.

  99. In the film Lawrence of Arabia there is a pivotal moment when Lawrence talks about uniting the "Arabs". His interlocuteur looks at him quizzically and asks - "I have heard of (this tribe and that) but what is an Arab?" The same can be said of Iraqis. It was and remains a figment of the colonial and post-colonial imagination. Let's get real with the facts on the ground, arm the Kurds who are the only friends we have over there, and put the boot to ISIS. People talk about the relative ineffectiveness of our airpower. That is stupid. In the desert air power rules the roost.

  100. Not difficult for us Americans to understand this article. Much of our own rot starts in that very same place - the top. Or the "big top" that is the American political circus. You know, the one with that tanned clown, the raucus southern accents, a total disregard for the roustabouts, and a supreme unwillingness to listen to the ringmaster.
    Funny, but scary when you get to thinking about it.

  101. ....merely ensuring that there are ministers from each of Iraq’s main communities — Shiites (conservatives), Sunnis (tea-party), Kurds (liberals) and minorities like the Chaldeans (libertarians) and Turkmen (greens)— will not ensure that they will represent those communities’ interests, let alone the national interest.' Yoikes, that sounds depressingly familiar...If we want to see what happens when there is no sense of common interest and we all blindly pursue our own interests to the exclusion of our common interest, we're looking at it. Same for a reasonable amount of financial, environmental controls - wanna see what happens when you unleash the capitalist beast - just look at China.

  102. Alas, the rot that starts at the top in Iraq is directly traceable to the rot that starts at the top government and corporate profiteers in the U.S. . Their naked greed for Iraqi oil wealth led to massive bungling that continues to this day. All in OUR name, no less. For shame!

  103. Astonishing! We just caused the death of tens of thousands or Iraqis' based mostly on lies about WMD's and connection to 911 and but for our power would fit nicely in The Hague today. We support the longest occupation of an indigenous people in modern history unflinchingly, and we even supply munitions to drop on children screaming in a now darkened and waterless Gaza, again without serious debate, and the NYT has the nerve to say Iraq's corruption is the problem......Astonishing!

  104. Fish rot from the head down.....all the more so in the desert and at an accelerated rate of decomposition when the electricity gets turned off.

    And we want to continue to clean out the refrigerator.....WHY?

  105. How incredibly naive! Iraq has never been a nation, it is just a collection of tribes ruled by either another country or a dictator. We need to let it take it's natural course while protecting our interests, which right now means supporting the Kurds since they are the most rational people in the area.
    The rest of them are a bunch of corrupt, murderous, unruly rotten apples. They really need to finish the fight between them sooner than later because that is the only resolution of these stone aged cultures.

  106. reliance on the united states to build institutions of governance while our own are in a state of collapse? it would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic.

  107. ISIS is financed by Saudi Arabia to " guarantee " safety of its pipelines through that region.

  108. It's becoming clear, if Iraq troops aren't willing to fight and die for Mosul, Fallujah etc then those area aren't part of Iraq. The map of Iraq must match the reality on the ground. There is time to preserve Iraq's national boundaries but Iraq blood must be shed for Iraq. Not boys from Kansas dying for Iraq!

  109. I’m confused. The New York Times’ editorial starts off saying that breaking up Iraq along sectarian lines is a cure worse than the disease, and then goes on to state every reason why it should be broken up. Which is it?

  110. I very much doubt that there has been a single day in the history of the land of Mesopotamia when a real democracy was practiced. Iraq has always been ruled by strong men, kings or passing conquerors. And this is NOT about to change regardless of all the efforts of our naïve good hearted Americans that were used or better to say abused for the purposes of revenge and grandstanding by George W. Bush and sociopathic self enrichment by Dick Cheney.
    In 714 AD General Al-Hajjaj was sent to the land of Mesopotamia which had revolted against the Umayyad dynasty headquartered in Damascus and promptly gathered all of its politicians and beheaded them. Peace in the land after that lasted for few decades. His speech is still taught in Middle Eastern Schools till now as an example of a powerful ruler speech
    Leave Iraq alone. It already has taken enough of our young men and women lives and futures and never mind our treasure. What ever we do now will NOT last and Iraq will eventually return as always through out history to a land ruled by one dictator.

  111. Other than the fact the west are the only countries who will supply aid for humanitarian crisis, I have to ask, what is it about the middle east civilization that should require western involvement? For a long time it was Saudi Oil. Now we understand we are self sufficient and may one day include Canadian reserves, if we don't squander reserves instead committed to China. The middle east is a distinct other civilization. Poking around with this dictator or that dictator, to keep a lid on the geography the Brits and the French dreamed up is folly. Islam is violent, end of sentence. Spill no more American blood. If the strike us destroy them. My guess is ISIS could be wiped out they are out in the open.

  112. So, Iraq's rot starts at the top?
    I think more accurately Iraq's current rot started at the top of the U S government ten years ago.

  113. Iraq's rot starts with religious fundamentalism.

  114. What is the rationale for tempting to maintain a 'unified' Iraq? Why not let it fall apart along natural divisions? Is it for the convenience of the oil and gas industries. So many, myself included, think that separate states in the former Iraq would bring back a modicum of stability to this troubled land.

  115. What is the significance of the letter U in UK, USA, and EU? With unity comes strength, cohesiveness, and efficiency. Imagine 50 countries in the lower half of North America, each with its own army, foreign policy, economic engine, and other necessary institutions.

    Or imagine carving the US based on Christian denominations, or entirely different religion or lack of it.

  116. Dysfunction at home leads to dysfunction abroad. Our allies and enemies recognize we have a splintered government including a winged president. How can we help other countries when we cannot address our own problems? Both the president and congress are the blame and it all leads back to outside money.

    We the people complain about dysfunctional politicians. We take up time arguing amongst ourselves, but when the arguing is done we go back to our homes, plan vacations, evaluate the next car we are about to buy and meet our best friends for a night out on the town.

    We don't think of ourselves as one nation with liberty and justice for all. How does anyone think we can solve the problems in the middle east when we cannot solve, or at least agree on, how to solve the problems in east Detroit?

    The middle east will not wait for us to fix our own problems but we must address them. They will not go away. Big money has taken over our government on both sides. The Democrats complain about the Koch brothers as the President travels the country raising money for the liberal Super PAC Priorities USA.

    I know, I know. You are saying I am off topic. I am not. There are always going to be problems on the table but if we don't fix the table sooner or later it will collapse. One individual, one politician, must step up and bring change at the risk of ruining his financially satisfying career. In 2008 I had hopes that was Barack Obama. Michelle. chew his butt out.....

  117. You are not off base. We could hope for Iraq to become a self-sustaining, reasonable nation, the same way we hoped that once Congress got over their post-election snits they might actually triy to help our country. We would show them the way. Unfortunately we did; they are just as bad as we have become.

  118. This op-ed piece is an eye-opener, although not quite in the way the author, Mr. al-Ali intends.

    It is nice that al-Ali has an opinion about what the top leadership in Iraq should do (be more inclusive), and what Americans should do (help Iraq remain undivided Iraq).

    Ahem. The Kurds want a separate homeland, and will have one. The Shias are incapable of including Sunnis in governance (they take orders from Iranian theocracy). The Sunnis (likely the world over) are in favor of an Islamic Caliphate.

    If there was ever a case to be made about three countries; it is now and it is in Iraq. I can see how this upsets the apple cart of some Iraqi elite (author of the article being one), but the facts on the ground are what they are.

    I like that the author has a clear sense of entitlement to American efforts to save his behinds, coupled with effete notions about what a Shia majority (drunk with power, and abusive) presumably ought to do. We don't owe him anything. The Shia majority in Baghdad will never ever foster a multicultural democracy; they will favor an Arab-style authoritative, kleptocratic regime that imprisons and kills its political foes, and staff its bureaucracy with sycophants. The current Iraqi army, with pot bellied, overweight leaders, is Exhibit A.

    If you want Iraq to remain one country, your efforts are best directed within Iraq and not in the pages of NY TIMES.

  119. I wish there were some positive role the United States could play in stabilizing Iraq and Syria. I wish it were possible to turn back the clocks fifteen or so years prior to the latest American/Middle Eastern wars. But there isn't and we can't. It is plain that American ideals and political models are not only unsuited for these countries but they may actually be anathema to the people of the region. The world is a mess right now. We should stop trying so hard to fix it because I suspect we are a big part of the problem.

  120. Perhaps we should consider our own history and recommend that the Iraqis form a republic with constituent states resulting in the United States of Iraq. That, of course, is a fatuous notion given the pseudo-nation's religio-tribal demographics and the homicidal instincts harbored between its sworn enemies.

    US greed, naivete and hubris have come home to roost. When this adventure began eleven years ago no planning indicated the likelihood of total failure and Iraq's disintegration into sectarian civil war? Making it up as you go along is not sound policy for violent foreign intervention. We've wasted trillions over a decade proving this in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

  121. As the ram touches the wall, Baghdad politicians are still fighting amongst themselves. This is the worst advertisement for democracy and why even democratic governments failed miserably from time to time. Many Baghdad politicians take as much as they can within system- except for the responsibility. ISIS is not the Nazis in WW II and they are only a very capable militia. Yet al-Maliki, who insists that he should be the next prime minister-even by force, is not even embarrassed by the fact that as the Iraqi prime minister, he has been unable to defend Iraq from a militia. It appears that al-Maliki is worst than ISIS- he is a home grown cancer that is about take down the entire body.

  122. Well actually, ISIS is the Nazis according to their treatment of Shia, Christians and heterodox sects well recorded by themselves and all over the net now. Everyone note well that in the last free German election of 1933, the Nazi vote dropped from 37% to 33%. Thereafter they staged the Reichstag fire and pushed through 'emergency powers'. 67% of the people did nothing.
    You must expect the same in ISIS country or Gaza where Islam means 'submit'.

  123. Aren't we the lucky ones? We live in a glass house and have an endless supply of stones to throw. There are platitude a plenty all of which fit the situation. The reality of this situation is that without the US to fight, they fight among themselves. When the unifying Great Satan is eliminated, the internal bickering can continue.

    Permanent peace? It won't happen. The Middle East main commodity is anger and hatred for anything different than their personal ethos. Is it realistic to expect them to change? No, it is not. Will they ever stop fighting? No, not until the end of time or until they kill each other off completely.

    Stay Informed, not involved.

  124. Americans think all other countries are inept and stupidly run.
    Foreigners are duplicitous, selfish, uneducated. Very few of them have good solid Protestant American ethical standards. I wish we would stop being so judgmental and and get back to dealing with inequality and injustice in our own country.

  125. At least Americans don't murder each other on the basis of their religious faith.

  126. No, they just murder each other because they can with readily available handguns provided by the NRA.

  127. Iraq's rot began when the British and French empires decided to create a nation carved from three provinces of the Ottoman Turk empire. The British refused to leave until an insurgency arose and the British installed a royal tyrant and fled.

    America and Europe stood aside when the Bath Party and military took over with Saddam Hussein. America did nothing while Saddam used poison gas on Kurds. America did not act when Saddam drained the swamps in the South. America cheered on Saddam in his war against Iran which led to a million Iranian casualties including the use of poison gas.

    America and the rest of the world responded when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

    ISIS is merely an extension of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq without provocation or invitation based upon lies about WMD's, a connection to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 and ignorance about Iraqi culture and history.

    America has no humanitarian nor socioeconomic nor political interests in Iraq unless they are related to Iraqi oil and gas. America very rarely allows it's values to over ride it's interest.

    For the Iraqi people sorting themselves out by ethnic sectarian means is as logical as sorting by political ideology. There was a civil war in America without any ethnic sectarian divisions. America sowed the wind in Iraq and the Iraqi people are reaping the whirlwind. Americans can not even govern themselves effectively.

    Any political solution presumes goodwill about a common Iraqi body politic goal.

  128. "America has no humanitarian nor socioeconomic nor political interest unrelated to oil and gas. America very rarely allows its values to over ride its interest."

    Well said, blackmamba. With slight edits above your paragraph is suitable to replace Emma Lazarus' quote on the Statue of Liberty as a revision reflecting 21st Century realities.

  129. All these years since 2003 of America interfering in Iraq, to the extent of invasion and occupation, strike me as having been tragic for Iraq and America. I would suggest, America limit interfering from here with the intent of ceasing as soon as Iraq as formed through internal politics from here appears stable.

  130. No leader or government can succeed in the presense of wide spread contempt for the law and bribery.

    A fair and uniformly enforced system of laws is fundamental to democratic governance.

    It is no surprise that Sharia law (and/or iron fisted dictators) have so much appeal in the Middle East, They fill the " Justice" vacuum created by the Iraq's corrupt politicians.

    Any nation building exercise needs to start with a credible justice system. The best leader will have the wisdom to act accordingly.

  131. Maliki is as ignorant as a pile of rocks and frankly I do not understand how neither the Bush nor the Obama administration could not find out what a silly choice he would make as head of Iraq. But here we are with an ungovernable country about to turn into an opium dreamer's version of the seventh century Arabia empowered with twenty-first century technologies. Nobody would have believed this possible when Cheney and Bush were spoiling for a fight to take down Saddam. Looking back we can see that this outcome was definitely derived from the vanities and misunderstandings we entertained in 2003.

    Most dictatorships control the entire civil society to insure that no opposition can develop. The kinds of responsible and capable civil servants that we enjoy in representative democracies do not exist in such countries and when the countries lose their authoritarians, all the civil institutions collapse. We had and have plenty of well educated experts who could anticipate what was likely to happen in Iraq but for some reason their knowledge was simply ignored. Iraq must be stabilized and then a modern democracy might develop but it seems unlikely for now.

  132. " Any American influence left in Iraq should focus on rebuilding the credibility of national institutions ".This is exactly like putting the cart before the horse.As long as countries like Iraq cannot learn from the U.S the virtues of religious tolerance and the sunnis and shias continue to slaughter each other,no institution modeled on the American democratic ones has a chance of survival in an atmosphere of bitter mutual hatred dating back to hundreds of years.

  133. America's rot starts at the top as well when Iraq was invaded by tanks and guns after 9/11. Not only was nothing but dire destruction accomplished but the loss of lives of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians all based on lies. And now President Obama continues to send in the same poison all over again with bombs and drones.
    It is time Iraq and the Middle East be free of our interference and help and we turn our attention to repairing our own wounded country. If the leaders and lawmakers in the U.S. want to help they should join the rest of the world in truly healing and changing what is going on around us. We have a UN which could use some strength from us to deal legitimately with world issues.
    And we need to find better leaders and lawmakers for our own country.

  134. Thanks again, Bush.

  135. Since our rot also starts at the top (Oligarchs on down to corrupt officials), it only makes sense that a government which BushCheney made in our own image would be likewise.

  136. I'm reluctant to conclude that this author believes there actually is a compelling reason why a state of Iraq should exist ... mainly because he seems to be suggesting that Iraq must exist in order to confront threats to its existence.

    In the absence of a clear social, cultural, or economic force that compels a group of people to see themselves as a united and unique entity within borders they all defend to the death, isn't it possible that the country itself is a legal fiction that will continue spending blood and dollars in defense of a fantasy until it runs out of both?

  137. al-Maliki is a leader exactly like George Bush. He hires people on the basis of loyalty rather than competence or intelligence. Bush had the US to burn through in terms of resources. Al-Maliki is not so fortunate.

  138. The Ba'ath Party that was in power when we took over was a nationalistic sectarian political force that wanted a unified Iraq. We had to get rid of them in order for Cheney's multinational oil companies to take control of Iraqi oil. That the party was controlled by the Sunnis was a necessity since the Sunnis are by far the best military force in Iraq even though they are outnumbered by the Shiites. Similar to the Tutsis in Rwanda vs. the Hutus. IMO the only way to unify Iraq is to find a Sunni leader strong enough to give the Sunnis confidence in a central government or for Iraq to form a loose confederation of the three main regions. This could be held together by an equitable sharing of oil revenue or by outright tribute of a sizable chunk of it to the Sunnis whose territory has the least oil reserves.

  139. ....I am in blood
    Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more
    Returning were as tedious as go'er:
    Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
    Which must be acted ere they may be scann'd.

    While just staying out is too late, getting out will be a very red experience.

  140. The author makes the same assumptions about Iraq as virtually every other commentator: that any divisions of the state should allow for heavy weapons (Really? Does the Middle East need more?) to be used by each separate entity. Why? Perpetuation of armed conflict is the only foreseeable result of such an arrangement, just with new actors.

    There are no really serious attempts to reduce the numbers of weapons in the Middle East rather than constantly building them up. I suppose this satisfies the huge corporations that sell their deadly wares to different countries, but it does nothing to solve any problems.

  141. The less dependent the U.S. becomes on Middle Eastern oil, the less interest we have in Iraq.

    I think President Obama is handling the situation in exactly the right way: intervening to prevent genocide and where the U.S. has a politically-stable ally (Kurdistan), but keeping at a distance otherwise.

  142. Mr. ZAID al-ALI suggests that holding torturers, sadistic prison personnel and corrupt judges to account publicly would be a start in shaking the Iraqi elite out of their bubble. If he's looking to the USA as a role model in that regard he is sadly delusional. Who guilty of torture and sadism at the CIA has been held to account publicly and punished?

  143. Once again, having to deal with another failure of the bush administration - it never seems to end.

  144. Men who would grab power have long exploited the sectarian differences in the middle east to serve their own interests and that of their cronies. There is little evidence that it has changed by watching the ebb and flow of the political clashes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Egypt and so on. Democracy has little chance in the middle east.

  145. After all this agony, death, maiming and money, extracted from the US, one has to wonder how George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Graham, Senator McCain and David Petraeus sleep at night? Never have so many supposedly patriotic Americans been so wrong and so unwilling to recognize what is so apparent after 13 years of trying to justify the invasion of Iraq by establishing a "Democracy" in Iraq. Would Saddam Hussein allowed radical islamists to march to the gates of Baghdad?

  146. So, what's the answer, Mr. al-Ali?

    A partition won't work. Al-Maliki as PM won't work. None of the other "candidates" who have been floated (You did not mention Haider al-Abadi, whom Iraqi President Fuad Masum just selected to be the next PM.) are qualified in your opinion.

    And what does qualify a candidate for PM, Mr. al-Ali? Even if the Iraqis produce a PM who understands the problems (Perhaps Mr. al-Abadi is such a candidate.), how does a qualified candidate get all the other corrupt politicians whom you claim are rotting the top of the political hierarchy to behave, or how does that PM neutralize the corrupt and incompetent? You may have noticed the difficulties the US President himself has had, domestically and in foreign affairs, with a truculent Congress bent on opposition and failure for its own political sake.

    I assume you're looking to influence US political opinion and political power brokers to support someone other than Maliki. But what your opinion piece seems to argue most strongly is that the US has no one to support. So, should the US just abstain, and absolve itself?

  147. If we do nothing it is likely that Iran will essentially take over most of Iraq (the Shia part)
    Saudi Arabia will take over most of the rest (the Sunni part).

    Tell me. What's so wrong with that picture? Shia can be with Shia and Sunni can be with Sunni.
    They can continue to hate and fight each other, but this time openly instead of it being a proxy war.

    Is this situation any worse for Iraqi citizens compared to life under Saddam Hussein or life under al Malaki?

    The Kurdish issue is problematic to say the least. They've demonstrated that they can run a fairly cohesive and inclusive government.

    Who wouldn't like a strong Kurdish government? The answer, is Turkey.

    People forget that the Kurds are also in Turkey, want independence as well, and Turkey is a NATO member.

    Our military support for the Kurds could very well backfire if that support ends up in the hands of Turkish Kurds.

    Regardless: it's time we start to debate if a stronger Iran and Saudi Arabia is really a United States national security issue.

  148. Our misunderstanding of Iraq continues in haste. Let's start with something simple: It's a country and not a firing range, where your prize ends up being another nation's oil. Its politics are hexed by religion, tribalism and modern day thuggery. What your argument lacks is an understanding of the opposition and you don't even offer readers a look at their motives. These aren't psychos binging, they're well organized, which means these could be the old Iraqi middle class and the wealthy Sunni trying to take back what was once theirs and that means they want their oil back, too. Why would our president want to bomb Iraq this time; milage points on his credit card or securing the oil rights for some of his biggest donors? The rot at the top is what can be found between the ears of our nation's leaders and our money mad law makers.

  149. "where your prize ends up being another nation's oil" to quote you.
    I'd thought that those who kept harping on our initial involvement being "for the oil" more than a decade ago had probably, mercifully died out, especially with the successful, egalitarian divvying up that eventuated. I see that's not the case.
    The author of this piece is of Baghdad (you know, like, he's from there, dude), is a constitutional scholar with law degrees from the best three law schools in the world, and is advisor on constitutional issues to the U.N. Your criticism, rooted as it is in progressive paranoia of more than a decade ago makes me vaguely nostalgic for simpler times though not for simpler friends.

  150. Obama is not interested in their oil - task the republicans;
    they are the strong protectors of big oil.

  151. As the events in Iraq yesterday and today clearly show ( troops and police deployments== al-Maliki refusing to step down and get out of the way) it from al-Maliki down that Iraq does not function as a State.
    My suggestion: Get our people OUT of Iraq, fully support the Kurd;s and help them start their own State

  152. " The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam" was Barbara Tuchman's greatest body of work in her career as a historian.

    In that book she demonstrates humans are incapable of learning from history and so doomed to repeat its errors over and over and over again, ad infinitum.

    The US political leadership -post WWII- also sucumbed to history and became impervious to learn from past policy mistakes and repeat them over and over again. Iraq and Afghanistan became the newest theater of foul ups.

    Each policy mistake by Obama gets costlier than previous mistakes made by W. After the terrible decision of Iraq's invasion in 2003, nothing done afterwards can correct the initial blunder.

  153. Bush is responsible for the mess he made. Obama is just trying to clean up the mess he inherited. It is simply unfair to hold Obama responsible for Bush's mess.

  154. This commentary is very convincing. It convinced me that partition of Iraq is the best solution.