It is hardly surprising to read that the flow of Iranian arms continues to reach Syria via Iraqi airspace. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised the Obama administration that he would inspect aircraft overflying his country, but his promise has proved hollow. As the New York Times reports:
The Iraqis have inspected only two [flights], most recently on Oct. 27. No weapons were found, but one of the two planes that landed in Iraq for inspection was on its way back to Iran after delivering its cargo in Syria.
Adding to the United States’ frustrations, Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, American officials say, citing classified reports by American intelligence analysts.
One can only wonder how the situation would have been different if the Obama administration had made a serious effort to continue an American military presence in Iraq post-2011. If a Status of Forces Agreement had been negotiated, Iraqi airspace would now be patrolled by the U.S. Air Force–and the Iranian Quds Force would lose a main route for arming its Syrian allies. Bashar Assad might well have fallen already if that were the case, and thousands of Syrian lives might have been saved.
The outcome might also have been different if the Obama administration had been more engaged after the 2010 Iraqi election in pushing to form a government led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite with heavy Sunni backing whose party was the top vote-getter. It is hard to imagine Allawi cooperating with the Iranians to prop up Assad the way Maliki has. Yet the administration and its ambassador in Baghdad, Chris Hill, took a destructive hands-off attitude that allowed the Iranians to assemble a pliant coalition led by Maliki.
In short, this is the price of American disengagement from Iraq–part of it anyway, since the price also includes the revival of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the ratcheting up of sectarian tensions in Iraq, which could yet result in an armed clash with the Kurds. Iraq’s experience once again shows that ending a “war” on our terms is not so simple as pulling out the troops. Indeed, pulling out the troops may well lead to a bigger war–not only in Iraq, it turns out, but in Syria as well. That is a lesson that those who advocate an immediate American pullout from Afghanistan–including the Times editorial board–would do well to keep in mind.