This is potentially very bad:
After a week of violence in Iraq in which more than 170 Iraqis, including tribesmen, soldiers, and policemen have been killed in clashes during Sunni protests in Salahuddin province, the Awakening is preparing to take up arms against the Iraqi government. On April 24, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the Awakening, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that “from Fallujah to Al Qaim” the tribes are coordinating and “united” to battle the government if need be.
For those who don’t recall, the “Anbar Awakening” was an alliance of mostly Sunni tribes in western Iraq, which aligned itself with the US military starting around 2006 after having had enough of the atrocities committed against them by al Qaeda in Iraq. (1) To say they were crucial to our victory during the surge would be no less than the truth. Without the Awakening, we don’t benefit from pacified areas that allow us to concentrate against al Qaeda and the Shiite militias, and we don’t have the eyes and ears of locals who know the situation on the ground far better than we do.
In return, we acted as interlocutors between the local tribes and the new, mostly Shiite national government, mediating the frictions caused by, literally, centuries of bad blood between the two sects. In the politics of Iraq, our military was essential to keeping the peace the surge won, not just because of our military power, but because we were the only group both sides trusted. If an American officer said something would get done, it would get done — and done honestly. It is almost impossible to put a value on the worth of that trust.
But now, with the Americans gone after Obama’s half-hearted, bungling efforts to negotiate a status of forces agreement, all that is in danger of falling apart as the groups revert to old habits and the Syrian civil war draws them in:
Without military forces in country, the US has been unable to support the Iraqi government in its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq, or to serve as a buffer and broker between Iraq’s ethnic groups. The US has also diplomatically abandoned the Sunni tribes in Anbar and other provinces, despite promises to remain engaged with the Awakening after the pivotal alliance that drastically improved Iraq’s security from 2006 to 2008.
Without US forces, al Qaeda in Iraq gained the time and space to regroup and rebuild, and has established a potent fighting force inside Syria as the Al Nusrah Front (al Qaeda’s affiliate there). Continued access to the tribes would have pressed the advantage against a previously decimated al Qaeda in Iraq and could have given the US a foothold to support non-Salafi jihadist rebels inside Syria as well (the tribes in western Iraq extend into Syria).
I said when we liberated Iraq that we had to be prepared to be there for 50 years, using our soldiers and our diplomacy as a shield while Iraq developed the habits of constitutional government and a healthy civil society, much like we did with South Korea. It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but I believe it had a good chance. Now we may never know, however, for if the tribes do revolt and the Syrian civil war does spread into Iraq –with inevitable Iranian involvement– then Barack Obama’s “Diffidence Doctrine” will have succeeded in taking all the blood and treasure we spent there and flushing it down a toilet.
Excuse me while I go find a wall to bang my head against.
(1) Such as killing their children, then hiding explosives under the bodies so the parents would be killed when they tried to recover their children’s corpses. If any group ever needed killing…
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)