Earlier this week I wrote about a strange occurrence in Iraq, involving a Russian machine gun loaded with Iranian ammunition, that was found mounted on an American tank. The Iraqi military had apparently lent this vehicle to a Shia militia (against the orders of the US Government), who wasted no time equipping it with the weapons they had acquired from their Iranian and Russian allies. All signs suggest that this event is a harbinger of things to come.
The Iraqi government happens to be an awkward transitory phase with their foreign policy. They are currently being supported by both the United States and the Russian-Iranian alliance. As we speak, there are two Russian generals stationed in an intelligence center in Baghdad, and Iranian advisers are helping the Iraqi military direct their war against ISIS. Iraqi officials have even said that they would welcome Russian airstrikes in their country, and they want a “full blown military alliance” with Russia, Iran, and Syria.
As you might expect, the United States isn’t taking this news very well. In fact, they’ve recently given the Iraqi government an ultimatum: It’s us or them.
The U.S. has told Iraq’s leaders they must choose between ongoing American support in the battle against militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and asking the Russians to intervene instead.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the Iraqis had promised they would not request any Russian airstrikes or support for the fight against ISIS.
Shortly after leaving Baghdad, Dunford told reporters traveling with him that he had laid out a choice when he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi earlier Tuesday.
“I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well,” Dunford said. “We can’t conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now.”
Of course, this has less to do with our ability to work alongside the Russians, and more to do with our willingness. It’s also very telling. We didn’t tell the Iraqi’s that they can’t under any circumstances, work with the Russians. Like a scorned lover in an unfaithful relationship, we delivered a final, impotent demand to our former puppet regime. “You have to choose between him or me.”
Five years ago there wouldn’t have been a choice. We could just tell the Iraqi government what to do, and they had to fall in line because their country was such a mess. Our military was the only thing keeping the crazies from burning their nation to the ground.
But after we left, their country burned anyway. It was clear that they needed real help, and they’ve found it with Russia. We can longer tell them what to do because they’re in a desperate situation, and we no longer have the military prowess to boss them around, or to save them. That’s why our demands are so revealing. We’re no longer in a position to give orders. Russia’s campaign in the Middle East has revealed that our military is a paper tiger in the region.
So far the Iraqi government hasn’t made a decisive choice. They probably want to ditch the Americans, but they can’t quite bring themselves to do it. Here’s what Iraq’s Prime Minister had to say on the matter.
Reuters reports that the U.S. ultimatum to Iraq puts Abadi in a difficult position, as his own country’s ruling political alliance and some powerful Shiite groups have been pushing him to request Russian air support.
The news agency said a proposal to request Russian strikes had been put to Abadi last week, but that he was yet to respond.
“Abadi told the meeting parties that it wasn’t the right time to include the Russians in the fight because that would only complicate the situation with the Americans and could have undesired consequences even on long-term future relations with America,” Reuters quoted a senior Shiite politician close to Abadi as saying.
He says he wants to maintain a long-term relationship with the US, but his willingness to work with our government’s enemies would suggest otherwise. However, they can’t afford to lose America’s support, at least not yet.
I suspect that they’re trying to decide on which superpower to side with, but the Russian-Iranian alliance isn’t quite ready to give them their full support. Their military forces are still tied down in Syria. So for now, Prime Minister Abadi is stuck with the Americans and their limited help, while he quietly allows Iraq’s militias to work with our Cold War enemy. Some help is better than no help, I suppose.
However, if the Russian’s successfully defeat all of the rebel factions in Syria, including ISIS, then all bets are off. They’ll be able provide full military support for Iraq, in which case their government will be able to kick our personnel out of the country, and welcome their new friends. The Russian-Iranian alliance will be able to finish what they started in Syria, and mop up what’s left of our proxy forces. At that point, everything our government has worked for in the Middle East will completely unravel, as well it should.