No, this is not The Onion. No, this is not a rip-off of The Onion. This is not satire. This is the plea from Iraq’s Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and the Minister of National Security Affairs. All of whom happen to be the same person: Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraq is what he describes as a “vibrant democracy” in a New York Times op-ed in anticipation of a visit to the U.S. and a meeting with President Obama this week.
Maliki says he’s fighting terrorism. Al-Qaeda is in Iraq killing the Iraqi people, he explains. “It has been almost two years since American troops withdrew from Iraq. And despite the terrorist threats we face, we are not asking for American boots on the ground,” he writes. “Rather, we urgently want to equip our own forces with the weapons they need to fight terrorism, including helicopters and other military aircraft so that we can secure our borders and protect our people. Hard as it is to believe, Iraq doesn’t have a single fighter jet to protect its airspace.”
Now if arming a Middle Eastern country with a solid history of sectarian violence sounds vaguely familiar and like an acutely bad idea—it’s because we’ve done it before. In Afghanistan in the ‘80s, we armed the Mujahedeen to aid their fight against the Soviets. And when we invaded the country a decade later, we were met with our own weapons. Poetic.
Maliki’s op-ed starts off by mentioning terrorism and then goes into the civil war in Syria. “These mutual interests include combating terrorism and resolving the conflict in Syria. The war in Syria has become a magnet that attracts sectarian extremists and terrorists from various parts of the world and gathers them in our neighborhood, with many slipping across our all-too-porous borders. We do not want Syria or Iraq to become bases for Al Qaeda operations, and neither does the United States.”
In March, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Baghdad and discussed with Maliki the daily flights (presumed to be arms) from Iran, across Iraq, into Syria. These daily deliveries being a lifeline to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is most noted for gassing thousands of Sunnis (including children), and then blaming it on Sunni rebels.
According to reports, Maliki refuses to stop the flights to Syria, regardless of the request by Kerry.
When Maliki says, “resolving the conflict in Syria,” that warrants a follow-up question: whose side are you on? His government has had a history of helping Iran evade sanctions beyond just the use of their airspace. David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a written statement given to The New York Times last year said Iran “may seek to escape the force of our financial sanctions through Iraqi financial institutions.”
If you’ve caught yourself confusing Iran and Iraq, it’s not just because they’re one letter different. It’s because there’s every indication they’re in a storied bromance.
We dropped a trillion dollars to replace an Iraqi dictator with this Prime Minister/Minister of the Interior/Minister of Defense/Minister of National Security Affairs guy. A man who spent the ‘80s in exile in Syria and then in Iran under the protection of the infamous Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Often in cognitive dissonance, after disconfirmation or the failure of prediction (greeted as liberators, anyone?) there is a doubling-down phenomenon as described by psychologist Leon Festinger. Meaning when the evidence doesn’t match up with our hopes, we often just hope harder. “Rationalization can reduce dissonance somewhat,” wrote Festinger. We’ve spent the last decade nation-building in what we’d hoped would at least be a friend in the region.
It’s not panning out.
It appears Maliki is at the very least complicit in arming Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in a civil war that has claimed 115,000 lives. This September, 52 Iranian dissidents were slaughtered at Camp Ashraf; it was carried out by Iraqi forces—armed with American weapons. There are still seven Iranian exile hostages the European Parliament has demanded be released, going so far as to threaten ending trade with Baghdad.
You know what could make this worse? Some bigger weapons.
What’s a jet fighter or two among frenemies?