Mission impossible still the case in Iraq

00:42, Jun 17 2014

That Iraq is again on the brink of fullscale civil war comes as no surprise. From long before George W Bush's famous "mission accomplished" declaration 11 years ago, and his successor Barack Obama's confidence in the country's future as the last US troops were set to be pulled out three years back, the notion of a stable, peaceful, democratic and fully functional Iraq has seemed more about wishful thinking than achievable reality.

Yet again, factionalism and Islamic extremism have plunged Iraq into chaos. Given the history of its formation, that's no surprise. However, the West must also shoulder some of the blame.

The current bloodbath illustrates the depth of failure of the US-UK-led invasion on the pretext of destroying Saddam Hussein's so-called weapons of mass destruction. The invasion would be a "cakewalk", there would be no US casualties, and there was a "slam-dunk case" against Iraq's deadly weapons caches, the world was told by leading US administrators leading up to the invasion.

Saddam was a despot, but his iron rule made for greater stability than is the case now. It is hard to see the current crisis there as representing anything other than an abject failure of US-UK foreign policy for the region. It is also difficult to know what other nations or international groupings can or should do about the current sectarian violence.

The previous failures make it that much less likely that anyone will want to intervene again, no matter how solid the humanitarian grounds this time around. In part, it's a numbers game. The Shi'ites make up some 60 per cent of the population. Sunnis, though, had held power for much of the past 100 years. Hardline Sunni militants have snatched control of some key cities over the past week. Fundamentalist Shi'ite clerics have called for their followers to take up arms in response.

Obama has said no to a ground invasion but has sent an aircraft carrier to the region and is not ruling out air strikes. Hopefully he will not pressure New Zealand to support any US-led military action. It was to this country's credit that it did not join the coalition of the willing's disastrous misadventure in Iraq over a decade ago. It should not consider anything other than a UN-led humanitarian initiative this time, either.


The Nelson Mail