Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Struggling to Wrap Your Head Around the Iraq Policy Debate? Read This, That, and These.

by Janine Davidson
June 18, 2014

iraq Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces stand guard during an intensive security deployment in Baghdad's Amiriya district, June 18, 2014. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters)


There’s little doubt that the security situation in Iraq is fast-moving; if you’re reading this even a few hours from now, the terrain will likely have shifted again. Amid the rhetoric about who to blame and what the United States should do next, it’s easy to lose sight of the broader picture—as well as the history that got us to this point.  Here are some of the best resources I’ve found to acquaint readers with some of the deeper issues at play:

First off, refer to our newly relaunched CFR BackgroundersThese are long-form, fact-based reports intended to catch you up to speed on a wide range of salient global challenges and debates. I’d recommend particularly analysis and context of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Next, understand the complex motivations of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-MalikiDexter Filkins at the New Yorker wrote a superb profile of Maliki in April and has been contributing further reporting through the escalating crisis. See also his assessment of the factors behind ISIS’ gains and study of the porous “border” between Iraq and Syria.

Trace the role of Iran—in both Syria and Iraq. See Filkins’ study of Qassem Suleimani, shadowy head of Iran’s Quds Force, which best helps contextualize the web-like relationship between Iran, Syria, and Iraq.

Turn to how this impacts the broader Middle East. David Ignatius has an insightful new column that looks beyond the minute-to-minute chaos to suggest the Middle East’s growing instability may ultimately require a new, multilateral security architecture. The voices at this table must include the sitting members of the UN Security Council. They must also include Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, ask what the United States can do nowMy answer, published on Friday: the short-term corrective measures are few. If you’re interested in further options and implications for U.S. military action, I also discussed this in greater depth on NPR’s Joy Cardin Show and PBS NewsHour.

And a bonus…James Fallows, writing in 2002, who predicted almost everything to come. Fallows’ piece, the target of ample skepticism at the time, is remarkable to read twelve years later.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Matt

    It is no point getting al-Maliki to stand down because all you will end up with is another al-Maliki a man who walks both sides of the fence, trying to keep jostling for his position, trying to please both Iran and US. And failing do please anyone and leading the country into crisis. You have to be at least independent, if not side with one side or the other. So Iran will not get who they want as the new PM and the US will not get who they want. So you end up with another al-Maliki. And the whole process could take 15 months. It is a delaying tactic, but in the end ineffective, but good if you want to buy time.

    Iran does not have an easy time they, fear al-Sadr for the same reason we do, a pan-Shiite State, trace his family roots there is no reason as why he could not be the supreme leader. So why Gates was key to brokering the deal that got him too back politics and put down the gun. Taking off the kill and capture list. Iran brokered the deal to bring him back as he and al-Maliki hate each other, so he backs al-Maliki and al-Maliki keeps away from him. Because both why the Mahdi are in the Iraqi Security Forces, as he UK found when they had guns pointed at their Iraqi counterparts, they are loyal to al-Sadr. So the risk of violence between al-Maliki and al-Sadr is real, that is why Iran backs other militias to the Mahdi. And al-Sadr and the Mahdi has be sidelined by other Iranian back militias.

    al-Sadr was not on the kill or capture list due to his resistance, but the threat of a pan-Shiite state which he could rule. I was against taking him off the list, as being too risky due to the threat he posed or any off spring, but Gates has been proven right and bought stability into Iraq.

    What is worse is his nationalism that as people have seen allows him to bring the gap between the two sects and can be the unifying force between the two sects, if not in theology directly, in practicality.

    We came close we got intelligence he was back in Iraq before the Gates deal in 2008, sent out a death squad and liquidated his brother in law by mistake. The kid truly is blessed another worry.

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