The costs of the Iraq War – the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, 2003-2011 — to America are steep. They include:
- 4,487 of our soldiers (not including civilian contractors) were killed.
- 32,226 soldiers were wounded.
- More than $845 billion of taxpayers’ money spent.
But now we are told that Iraq, once again, is spiraling into out-of-control violence.
Pamela Dockins reports for Voice of America (via GlobalSecurity.org), September 19, 2013, that Iraq is grappling with its worst violence in years with almost daily bombings and attacks undermining the country’s fragile framework and rivaling the dark days of civil unrest in 2007 and 2008.
The violence has escalated steadily after U.S. troops largely pulled out of the country at the end of 2011. Civilian deaths in Iraq have more than doubled in the last year, according to statistics from the United Nations Assistance Mission, from 2,000 in 2012 to 4,800 in 2013.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed for help this week. In a televised speech on Wednesday, he urged “citizens, politicians and journalists” to support security forces as they try to chase down what he called “the terrorists.”
But analysts say much more than terrorism is at play. The violence is largely sectarian, fueled by many complicating factors including a political deadlock in Baghdad and a spillover of al-Qaida activity from the conflict in Syria.
The Iraqi government has been stalled for months amid a Sunni-Shi’ite political and social divide. Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman said Maliki may have contributed to the unrest when he moved broadly to consolidate power in his Shi’ite-dominated government, leaving Sunnis feeling disenfranchised.
Cordesman, who co-authored a September report on Iraq’s violence, said the unrest is also fueled by social discontent brought on by high unemployment, little industry growth, and a poor distribution of oil revenue amid a dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish minority in the oil-rich north.
Besides internal strife, Iraq is facing a fallout from Syria’s civil war.
Carnegie Middle East Center analyst Paul Salem said Iraq’s Sunnis may feel emboldened by the Sunni opposition in Syria: “If the Sunnis in Syria make more headway there, the Sunnis in Iraq feel that that might empower them to push back against Maliki and a sort of Shi’ite – dominated government.”
Salem said al-Qaida militants* fuel unrest in both countries: “Al-Qaida takes advantage of discontent among the Sunni community [in Iraq] and it can express the more radical discontent, the more militant discontent as in Syria. The protests began as unarmed and rather civil. As the protests turned into an armed conflict, al-Qaida certainly found a foothold.”
*Note: These are the same al-Qaida jihadists whom Obama is arming in Syria.
Iraqis in general say they fear a descent into chaos, which could lead to further destabilization in an already volatile Middle East.