Unfortunately, in today’s Iraq, terror and death are the daily rule, not the exception.
Earlier this month in eastern Iraq, a suicide bomber disguised as a police officer walked through a crowd of pilgrims gathered in observance of the day of Ashura, a solemn Shiite holy day. Moments later, his explosive belt detonated, killing 35 people and injuring 75 more.
In response to increasing violence, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently visited the United States, requesting aid in his country’s fight against terror. While the U.S. wants to support Iraq’s counterterror efforts, it is hesitant because Maliki actively cooperates with Iran and could use the aid against law-abiding Sunni Iraqis.
That wouldn’t be much better than supporting the extremists.
The U.S. withdrew counterterror and intelligence capabilities from Iraq in 2011. With violence in the country now on the rise, Maliki is requesting reconnaissance drones, Apache helicopters, Hellfire missiles, and other heavy weaponry to combat terrorists.
The U.S., however, has responded with caution.
Maliki and the U.S. share many regional interests, among them the fight against formidable terror organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL)—formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, Maliki’s personal involvement in Iraq’s decline has caused many U.S. officials to question the wisdom of unconditionally giving Iraq military aid.
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa recently held a hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq. Members noted the rapidly escalating violence throughout the nation. Although al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for most of the violence, several representatives openly criticized Maliki’s shortcomings in governance as contributing to the deteriorating situation.
For example, Iraq allows Iran to operate unhindered in Iraqi airspace, ferrying supplies to the Syrian government. Also, Maliki has primarily pursued sectarian goals during his administration, alienating Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis through his increasing ties with Shia Iran. This strong Shia allegiance has led many Sunnis to join al-Qaeda-linked forces. The U.S. should respond with a focused vision, ensuring that aid is only delivered after Maliki’s government meets certain conditions. These conditions should include the establishment of free, fair elections (currently scheduled for April 30, 2014) and the ending of many of Iraq’s military and strategic ties with Iran.
When these are met, the U.S. should ensure strict oversight and control of critical weapons systems. This response allows the U.S. to support Iraq in the fight against terror, while ensuring that U.S. resources are not deployed against law-abiding Sunnis. The U.S. must stand firm in negotiations with Maliki until the prime minister commits to representing and protecting all Iraqis equally under the law.
The road in Iraq will be long; the violence will not end abruptly. However, if the U.S. stands firm on principle while continuing to support the war on terror, Iraq’s prospects will steadily grow brighter.
Micah L McKinnis is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.