U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just finished a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, which not expected to be friendly, after the U.S. entertained the idea that the Iraqi Prime Minister should resign.
A few days prior to his Middle East trip, the senior U.S. diplomat
held a conference call with Sunni Arab leaders. According to a senior Arab diplomat briefed on the call, the U.S. contingent did not fully grasp the situation.
“We felt the Americans were greatly misinformed,” a senior Arab diplomat told The Wall Street Journal. “The insurgency isn’t just about ISIS, but Sunnis fighting back against injustice.”
The bias of Sunni diplomats aside, the rebel offensive has indeed been made possible by Sunni tribes allied with former regime loyalists, including intelligence officers and Republican Guard soldiers, who balancing an uneasy alliance with extremist Sunni militants from Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS).
“In all of this fighting, ISIS is the front-page news, but who is actually holding the ground?” Hussein Hassan Nerman, a Kurd and former Iraqi parliamentarian, asked Pittsburgh Tribune-Review correspondent Betsy Hiel. “It is 7,000 ex-army officers from Saddam’s days.”
The Iraqi “deep state” forces are led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam Hussein’s most trusted deputies, who fled to Syria after Saddam fell and worked with Syrian intelligence to target Americans. The goal of the Baathists and the tribes they have gathered is to oust Maliki.
“There are military plans to enter Baghdad and save all the people from the dictator … (that) will be implemented in the near future,” a Sunni military commander told Hiel. “If someone asks me, ‘Are you with ISIS?’ I would say no. I refuse their acts. But at the same time, we won’t allow Shia militias to kill us.”
On Sunday in Cairo, Kerry said that Iraqi leaders must rise above sectarianism and was expected to push Maliki on a more inclusive government. But all signs suggest that ship has sailed.
Maliki has actively marginalized the country’s Sunni minority since at least 2010. As University of Maryland Phillip Smyth told Business Insider, “Maliki’s government has already crossed the line in terms of being too sectarian.”
Kerry perceived ignorance is corroborated by other reports about America’s poor understanding of Iraq’s deterioration. When the U.S. assessed the Iraqi security forces at the end of April, officials were shocked at the lack of leadership — as well as the amount of Sunni officers Maliki had forced out.
The reaction was: “Whoa, what the hell happened here?” a senior U.S. official told WSJ.
All in all, John Kerry may be at a significant diplomatic disadvantage if he is pressing Maliki to extend his hand to Sunnis, and vice versa, when the opposite is occurring.
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