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‘Iraq and Syria witness de facto partition on the ground’

Published time: June 19, 2014 09:03
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Reuters)

​The US has wasted all the money it has poured into Iraq as Islamists continue to partition the country, Ivan Eland, a political analyst at the Peace and Liberty Center, told RT.

RT: Over the last week ISIS has gained a foothold in the country's north and is now advancing on Baghdad. What could have led to the onslaught being so quick and successful?

Ivan Eland: I think it has been planned for years. ISIS sort of incubated its combat capabilities in Syria and it sort of avoided fighting the Syrian government and let the other rebel groups in Syria take the brunt of the damage. So they were planning to go into Iraq because there are a number of purposes, mainly to set up an Islamic caliphate from parts of Syria and parts of Iraq, the Sunni parts.

Their real agenda wasn't to take over the Syrian government, although they fought a bit against the Syrian government. I think they've been planning this assault for at least 2 years – to go back into Iraq. But of course all this started with the US invasion of 2003 which created Al Qaeda in Iraq, and of course, that morphed into this group. And then they went into Syria and now they are back in Iraq. The US invasion is the root core of the problem.

RT: The US spent over 25 billion dollars training Iraqi troops and they've been reported to flee and abandon arms when confronted with militants in cities such as Mosul and Tikrit. Was the US mission a failure?

IE: All that money has been wasted and what is worse than that, all that heavy and complex weaponry is now in the hands of these radical Islamists. Yet there are still people in US advocating United States arm the moderate opposition in Syria. Well you can see what happens in the civil war setting. The most ruthless groups end up capturing the ammunition and the guns and the heavy weapons.

And so the US has given all these weapons to the Iraqi army and now many of them are in enemy hands. And I think the same thing would have occurred in Syria if the US had gone in. The US has provided some military aid to Syria but it has restrained somewhat and so the same thing would have happened if the US would have done that. Nevertheless there is still a lobby in the US for doing the same thing in Syria.

RT: When the insurgency campaign began the US said it's not sending troops to Iraq, and now it deploys warships to the Persian Gulf and soldiers to Baghdad. What do you make of that?

IE: I think the US has a great military training program. The problem is in Iraq and Afghanistan is that in Iraq they disbanded the army and the National Guard, and in Afghanistan the literacy rate is so low. When there are cultural problems, and America does not know about the culture in either of these places, so often times culture is very important.

And of course in Iraq we have the sectarian problem, where the army had problems because of sectarian violence. And there is also a lot of corruption. So ISIS, as they have done in Syria, has been very smart about avoiding fighting. They fight a little bit but they also have paid off some of the Iraqi commanders to have them flee and have their troops flee.

So I think ISIS is smart in some of the things they've been doing. They are taking a lead from David Petraeus' book, who paid a little bit more to moderate Sunnis awakening the fight against Al Qaeda during the US occupation. ISIS is now paying the Iraqi army to desert and not fight.

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Reuters)

RT: Will the Iraqi government be able to rein in militants with its own resources or is the US stepping in inevitable?

IE: I do not think there is going to be a huge contingent of US ground forces. You may see some Special Forces put in to spot for aircraft. It depends if they use manned aircraft or drones. Without spotters on the ground they have trouble hitting these targets because this is not a big ISIS force and also they blend in with the civilians in many of these towns and cities and therefore they are hard to hit.

They may use drone aircraft but still if you do not have a few soldiers on the ground, they could hit the wrong targets; their intelligence could be bad, etc. If they do end up using heavier strikes, they will put Special Forces on the ground to spot targets and radio in the coordinates for the aircraft. But they may just use drone strikes in the manner of Yemen. But whether they will be so effective remains to be seen. But it maybe just a minimal air campaign.

So it is in doubt how many forces they'll put on the ground. It would be probably some special forces will go on the ground given past conflicts. I don't think you'll see a massive ground force go back in from the US, simply because the American people are tired of Iraq, tired of war in Iraq and they are tired of war period after Afghanistan and Iraq. So I think there is a big pressure on Obama to do the minimum necessary to help Iraq beat back these rebels.

RT: How will this conflict affect the region? Sunni as well as Shia - dominated countries in the region are already expressing their concerns.

IE: I said back in 2009, before the US left, that they should negotiate a soft partition among the groups, to keep Iraq but make it a lose administration of autonomous groups. Either that would happen by soft means, through negotiation that is, or it will happen through war. And I think what we're seeing now is the warfare part. It is too late to soft partition in negotiation.

There maybe negotiation after the fighting is over. But we are already seeing the Kurds taking Kirkuk. Vladimir Putin of course got into trouble for taking Crimea from the Western countries, but nobody has said anything when the Kurds went into Kirkuk recently, which is an oil laden city, which it always wanted. We have the Sunni group ISIS taking over the Sunni parts of Iraq. The reason why they are doing this is because the Sunni's are fed up with the Shia government. And the Shia militias are now being raised to help the much smaller Iraq army after the desertions to suppress the attacks from ISIS.

So I think what you are seeing is the partition de facto on the ground. And that is what we have in Syria too. The same basic groups. And we see a partition there too between the Sunni and the Shia areas. In Syria they call them the Alawite, but it is Shia, it is the same splinter group and we have the Kurds also in Syria.

So we see this regional partition and unfortunately it happened as a result of war instead of redrawing the boundaries of the colonial powers who have created all these artificial states in Lebanon, in Bahrain, Iraq, Iran – they are all somewhat artificial states that the British and the French created after WWI. But their boundaries are still there. There're multi-ethnic groups and they don’t really get along very well.

RT: Can you list the options available to Washington under the current scenario?

IE: There are a number of options. They could just provide aid and military assistance, intelligence to the Iraqi military. Providing more weapons to the Iraqi military would be a nightmare. They have weapons which already ended up in ISIS hands, at least a lot of them. Then you have other things, it could be a drone campaign or a full-fledged air campaign. I don’t think you'll see a big ground campaign. Economic consequences – all that costs money and the US has already a $17 trillion debt.

I think we already are over extended throughout the world and to get back into Iraq is going to cost more money and more billions. I think, as I've said, the American people are tired of lives lost overseas in these places, but also the money spent. They spent trillions in Iraq already if you count everything up and there are just more economic costs to this type of spending and federal budget costs as well.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.