Where does an unstable government fending off fierce resistance go for help? In Iraq’s case, the United States. Never mind that just two years ago, after surviving because of the sacrifices of U.S. troops, Iraq accelerated the withdrawal of U.S. troops by refusing to renew legal immunity for American forces.
Iraq and its leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, were confident at the time that they could handle various challenges, including, al-Qaida. They were wrong.
On Friday Mr. al-Maliki will visit President Barack Obama seeking whatever assistance the United States can spare with the notable exception of “boots on the ground.”
Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, told the Associated Press that Iraq’s shopping list includes aircraft, missiles, interceptors and other weaponry as well as improved intelligence support — the sooner the better. And though rank-and-file U.S. troops aren’t sought, Iraq might welcome CIA advisers or special forces units to strengthen Iraq’s counter-terror efforts.
That’s because Iraq is about as dangerous a place now as it was during the height of the conflict when U.S. troops were there. In the last six months, roughly 5,000 Iraqis have been killed, and in the last month alone, more than 35 suicide bombers have claimed the lives of innocent civilians.
The violence in Iraq escalated when U.S. forces, which had kept the peace, returned home. The source of the conflict is as old as the tensions between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, with the additional scourge of al-Qaida manipulating the strife for its own purposes. There is no such thing in Iraq as a safe place.
To its credit, Iraq is prepared to pay for U.S. weapons and assistance. Ambassador Faily even indicated that whatever advisers or trainers the United States commits to Iraq needn’t worry about legal immunity.
Lest the United States not jump at the opportunity to get further involved in Iraq, the ambassador made clear that if the United States doesn’t provide the assistance Iraq seeks — and quickly — Iraq would “go elsewhere.” Elsewhere means China or Russia, either of which might be delighted to strengthen their positions in Iraq, particularly if they can do so at America’s expense.
Given the tenuous nature of our present influence in Iraq, it might be tempting to let the Russians or Chinese try their hand. Yet as distasteful as it is to extend further aid to a dubious friend like Iraq, it’s more palatable than allowing Russia or China to increase their influence in the world’s most volatile region.