Who even knows what to call it? The Iraq War or the Iraq-Syrian War would be far too orderly for what's happening, so it remains a no-name conflict that couldn't be deadlier or more destabilizing -- and it's in the process of internationalizing in unsettling ways. Think of it as the strangest disaster on the planet right now. After all, when was the last time that the U.S. and Russia ended up on the same side in a conflict? You would have to go back almost three quarters of a century to World War II to answer that one. And how about the U.S. and Iran? Now, it seems that all three of those countries are sending in military hardware and, in the case of the U.S. and Iran, drones, advisers, pilots, and possibly other personnel.
Since World War I, the region that became Iraq and Syria has been a magnet for the meddling of outside powers of every sort, each of which, including France and Britain, the Clinton administration with its brutal sanctions, and the Bush administration with its disastrous invasion and occupation, helped set the stage for the full-scale destabilization and sectarian disintegration of both countries. And now the outsiders are at it again.
The U.S., Russia, and Iran only start the list. The Saudis, to give an example, have reportedly been deeply involved in funding the rise of the al-Qaeda-style extremist movement the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Now, facing that movement's success -- some of its armed followers, including undoubtedly Saudi nationals, have already reached the Iraqi-Saudi frontier -- the Saudis are reportedly moving 30,000 troops there, no doubt in fear that their fragile and autocratic land might someday be open to the very violence their petrodollars have stoked. Turkey, which has wielded an open-border/safe haven policy to support the Syrian rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime, including ISIS and other extremist outfits, is now dealing with kidnapped nationals and chaos on its border, thanks to those same rebels. Israel entered the fray recently as well, launching airstrikes against nine Syrian "military targets," and just to add to the violence and confusion, Assad's planes and helicopters have been attacking ISIS forces across the now-nonexistent border in Iraq. And I haven't even mentioned Hezbollah, the Jordanians, or the Europeans, all of whom are involved in their own ways.
Since 2003, Dahr Jamail, a rare and courageous unembedded reporter in Iraq, has observed how this witch's brew of outside intervention and exploding sectarian violence has played out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. It couldn't be a sadder tale, one he started reporting for TomDispatch in 2005 -- even then the subject was "devastation." Nine years later, he's back and the devastation is almost beyond imagining. As he now works for the website Truthout, this is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report. Tom
A Nation on the Brink How America's Policies Sealed Iraq's Fate By Dahr Jamail
For Americans, it was like the news from nowhere. Years had passed since reporters bothered to head for the country we invaded and blew a hole through back in 2003, the country once known as Iraq that our occupation drove into a never-ending sectarian nightmare. In 2011, the last U.S. combat troops slipped out of the country, their heads "held high," as President Obama proclaimed at the time, and Iraq ceased to be news for Americans.
So the headlines of recent weeks -- Iraq Army collapses! Iraq's second largest city falls to insurgents! Terrorist Caliphate established in Middle East! -- couldn't have seemed more shockingly out of the blue. Suddenly, reporters flooded back in, the Bush-era neocons who had planned and supported the invasion and occupation were writing op-eds as if it were yesterday, and Iraq was again the story of the moment as the post-post-mortems began to appear and commentators began asking: How in the world could this be happening?
Iraqis, of course, lacked the luxury of ignoring what had been going on in their land since 2011. For them, whether Sunnis or Shiites, the recent unraveling of the army, the spread of a series of revolts across the Sunni parts of Iraq, the advance of an extremist insurgency on the country's capital, Baghdad, and the embattled nature of the autocratic government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were, if not predictable, at least expectable. And as the killings ratcheted up, caught in the middle were the vast majority of Iraqis, people who were neither fighters nor directly involved in the corrupt politics of their country, but found themselves, as always, caught in the vice grip of the violence again engulfing it.
An Iraqi friend I've known since 2003, living in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, emailed me recently. He had made it through the sectarian bloodletting of 2006-2007 in which many of his Sunni compatriots were killed or driven from the capital, and this is the picture he painted of what life is now like for him, his wife, and their small children:
"All the dangers faced by Iraqis from the occupation -- arrests, torture, car bombs, and sectarian violence -- those killings have become like a toy in comparison to what we are facing these days. Fighting has spread in all directions from the north, east, and west of Baghdad. Much of the fighting is between the government and Sunni insurgents who have suffered a lot from the injustice of Maliki's sectarian government."
As for his daily life, he described it this way:
"As a result of this fighting, we can't sleep because of our fear of the uncertainty of the situation, and because of the random arrests of innocent Sunni people. Each day I awake and find myself in a very hard and bad situation and now am trying to think of any way I can to leave here and save my family. Most of my neighbors left back when it was easier to leave. Now, we have both the U.S. and Iran helping the Iraqi government, and this will only make the fighting that is going on across Iraq much worse.
"Life in Iraq has become impossible, and even more dangerous, and there is now no way to leave here. To the north, west, and east of Baghdad there is fighting, and with so many groups of Shiite militias in the south, it is not safe for us to go there because of the sectarianism that was never here before the invasion. The price for bus tickets has become very expensive and they are all booked up for months. So many Iraqi families and I are trapped in the middle now."
"Every day, the Iraqi army is raiding homes and arresting many innocent people. So many dead bodies are to be found at the Baghdad morgue in the days following the mass arrests in Sunni areas."