President Obama is wrong that the American withdrawal will end the war in Iraq. In fact, if history is a guide, the war may become even more bloody after the Americans leave. The exit of American forces will leave a void that will almost certainly be filled by Iran.
An American withdrawal will almost certainly embolden the Iranians. Its leaders, who believe in the apocalyptic Twelver sect of Islam, will view the unilateral departure of U.S. troops as a gift from on high. President Ahmadinejad, exemplified the view of Iran when he told CNN last week that “The United States has become weaker and weaker. Now they are hated in the region.” The absence of American forces in the region will almost certainly make the Iranians become more aggressive. The question is what form their aggression will take.
The worst case scenario would be a full-scale conventional invasion of Iraq by the Iranian military. This is the same scenario that played out in Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal there. The picture of an American helicopter perched atop a Saigon apartment building while refugees clamber up a wooden ladder to escape the invading North Vietnamese army is an enduring image that has shaped U.S. foreign policy for four decades.
Although the Iraqis fought the Iranians to a standstill in the brutal war of attrition in the 1980s, it is unlikely that the newly reformed Iraqi army could stand up to an Iranian onslaught. To prevent the country’s fall, American assistance would undoubtedly be needed, but it is doubtful whether it could be expected. Bipartisan opposition in congress would make it difficult for President Obama to redeploy troops to Iraq in an emergency, assuming he even wanted to.
More likely though, Iran will try to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence through threats, diplomacy and coercion. It is possible that Iran will rekindle the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq before the surge in order to undermine the Iraqi government. Supporters of Moqtada al Sadr, a stalwart Iranian ally, can be counted upon to look out for Iranian interests.
The absence of American power in the Middle East will create a power vacuum that the Iranians will try to fill. Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be their principal competition. Both nations have formidable militaries, but cannot compete with a nuclear armed Iran. With the apparent resignation of the west to a nuclear Iran, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are reported to be developing nuclear weapons. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East among Islamic nations seeking to counterbalance Iranian influence appears increasingly likely.
As America’s influence in Iraq wanes, the Iraqis already appear to be moving closer to Tehran. The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq, Iran and Syria, an Iranian client state, recently agreed to build an oil pipeline through the three countries. Iraq has also been on e of the few nations to support Syria’s beleaguered President Assad, who is the target of an Arab Spring uprising.
Iran and Iraq together control 18 percent of the world’s oil reserves according to an estimate by Finance Manila. The two countries rank third and fourth in the world respectively, trailing only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. If Iran could gain control or influence over Iraqi oil, the world’s economy would be threatened. The interruption of Libyan oil, which constitutes only three percent of world reserves, threatened to crash the world economy once again and forced NATO to go to war.
The Iraq War is not over just because U.S. troops are leaving. Rather, it is entering a new and perhaps even more dangerous phase. In a disturbing replay of events, the U.S. is once again ignoring an enemy that is already at war… and has been since 1979.
Read “The Iraq War is not ending”