In the wake of the joint Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Baathist seizure of Mosul, Tikrit, and Beiji, the knives have been out for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki is far from perfect, but the idea that Maliki’s sectarianism or alleged authoritarianism caused the current crisis is nonsense.
First, it’s long past time Americans cease being more sectarian than the Iraqis. ISIS might despite Shi’ites, but they are killing Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds. On Saturday, the imam at one of the leading Sunni mosques in Mosul was executed by ISIS because he would not willingly turn his mosque over to the terrorists. The governor whom ISIS drove out of Mosul was Sunni, elected by the population of Mosul.
Second, ISIS and other radical Islamist groups as well as unrepentant Baathists are motivated not by grievance but by ideology. I, too, think Maliki should have more proactively sought to co-opt Iraqi Sunnis even if he tried more than he has been given credit for. But bashing Maliki for not offering enough to Sunnis is neither here nor there: ISIS and Baathists would have pocked any concessions offered and then simply attacked anyway.
Third, to respond to Sunni Islamist or Baathist terror by demanding the central government grant more concessions to Sunni Islamists or Baathists simply legitimizes terror. When terrorists struck the United States, only fools counseled changing American behavior to appease those terrorists. Likewise, when extremist Iranian-sponsored Shi‘ite militias targeted American soldiers in Iraq, the response should not have been offering incentives to Iran. When Sunnis are disillusioned, they should vote and, indeed, they did. If they are so disappointed with Maliki, they can rally other Iraqi political communities against a third term for Maliki, something that was already occurring before the ISIS attack began.
And, fourth, we’ve been down this road before. Remember the Fallujah Brigade? During the initial uprising in Fallujah a decade ago, the Bush administration and U.S. military responded by blessing the creation of the so-called Fallujah Brigade. Big mistake. Empowering the insurgents and justifying their uprising only worsened violence: Car bombings increased six-fold.
Before the surge, Gen. David Petraeus engaged in a similar strategy of appeasing and co-opting local Islamists and Baathists in Mosul, appointing them to key positions in the police and border security. In November 2004, after Petraeus went home and the money with which the 101st Airborne subsidized them dried up, the Islamists and Baathists with whom Petraeus had partnered handed the keys to the city to the insurgents. Too many journalists, cultivated by Petraeus, blamed the 25th Infantry which succeeded the 101st. That was both unfair and inaccurate.
America’s memory is notoriously short-term, but simply empowering those who consistently fail at the ballot box and refuse to accept both the legitimacy of the elected government and the fact that they cannot once again dominate 70 percent of the country who happen to be Shi’ite would be to make the same mistake three times.
A new government will benefit Iraq, but sometimes the key to making peace possible is to defeat terror and its supporters, not to reward it or to blame the victim.