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      Tuesday
      Jul152014

      Avoid Splinters in Iraq, Syria

      Congressional support for a War Powers authorization looms as the only opportunity for the US to avoid another self-inflicted wound in Iraq and Syria. The fifteen-day deadline provides an opportunity for anti-war groups to exert public pressure against any escalation, and a wrenching deadline for Congress to end its dickering and denial. The best that can be expected is a face-saving bipartisan formula for avoiding a quagmire while minimizing the political cycle of blame. The difficulty will be defining a formula that might yet patch together the Sunni "humpty" with the Shiite "dumpty". If that is possible at all, the interim solution will take the same threat by John Kerry and the Western alliance to stop funding sectarianism, which has worked for the moment in Afghanistan. A no-fault divorce of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites seems out of the question, meaning an expansion of war. 

      The most important advice President Barack Obama should heed in Iraq and Syria is to avoid splinters. When these tiny barbed slivers cut into flesh, they can be painful to remove completely. Patience and soapy warm water are recommended, which translates into diplomacy as the equivalent of medicine.   

      ISIS is an Islamic splinter ready to pierce American flesh. The responsible US approach should be hands-off. As predicted here, the ISIS offensive will stall as it approaches Shiite strongholds in Baghdad and further south. Tensions within ISIS will increase. Instead of funding and arming the sectarian al-Maliki regime, the best American approach is to threaten a cutoff in funding unless al-Maliki abides by a genuine power-sharing arrangement, presumably including his resignation. As frequently occurs, America's "client" (in this case al-Maliki) turns the tables (on his "master") with confidence that the US will not pull the plug. 

      ISIS is only the latest example of how wrongheaded US military intervention often creates exactly the enemies they claim to be preventing. It is established fact, except among the neo-con crackpots, that al-Qaeda did not even exist in Iraq until the US invasion created the conditions for its birth. Then US Special Ops went to war in Iraq against al-Qaeda in league with Sunni "Awakening" forces in 2007, when that version of AQ was considered too extreme even for the disenfranchised Sunni tribes in Anbar Province. The apparent "defeat" of that al-Qaeda by the US and the tribes spawned a splinter insurgency, which has become ISIS in Iraq.

      Meanwhile, other splinters were breaking loose within the Syrian Sunni insurgency against Assad. While the US tried to pick and choose among competing "free Syria" contenders, the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was expelling the splinter group which became ISIS. The grounds for the split were two-fold: that the ISIS violence was too extreme and indiscriminate, and Zawahiri wanted ISIS to focus on Iraq and leave the Nusra Front to deal with Syria. The splintering continued with the formation of the Army of Islam, whose thousands of fighters have been battling ISIS on the same issues of excessive brutality. By one estimate, seven thousand fighters have been killed in clashes between these Syrian splinter groups since January.

      Air strikes by the US, combined with any escalation of ground forces, under whatever label, would be a key factor in unifying these insurgent splinters who otherwise are at each other's throats. The splinters thus lodged in America's flesh will be hard to remove any time soon. 

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