The Iraqi Army is currently trying to wrest control of Fallujah from al-Qaeda-linked militants, and Secretary of State John Kerry has said that American forces would not get involved in the third battle for the city. Both Kerry and an expert on Iraq said that the United States could give support to the Iraqis without putting American lives at risk.
“Drone strikes without the permission of the Iraqi government would be a good idea,” said Michael Knights, an expert on Iraq and Lafer fellow of The Washington Institute. “In Iraq, and in the Arab world in general, the U.S. is often deterred from doing things because America's allies raise objections. But often they protest too much, and what they really want is for the U.S. to ask for forgiveness and not for permission. A thorny problem needs dealing with, but US involvement is not something the locals can ask for openly.”
The Obama administration is hamstrung by its promise to get Americans out of Iraq completely, despite leaving the country in horrible shape in 2011 as chaos and violence grip the country. At least 20 people were killed in a string of bombings in Baghdad Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks that claimed 7,818 civilians in 2013, according to U.N. estimates.
“This administration is not just war-weary: it is loath to do anything that looks like backsliding on the promise of war termination in Iraq, even if U.S. interest demands such a reversal,” Knights said. “The White House is resistant to anything that hints the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq may have been premature, or that we need to step back in now.”
Drone strikes provide a way for the United States to influence the outcome of the battle for Fallujah without a broader investment in Iraq. According to Knights, the United States has shown a willingness to get involved in other Arab countries despite protests from their governments.
“U.S. hesitancy to become directly involved with boots on the ground or other overt military activity … seems innocuous when we look at US counter-terrorism activism against al Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and so on,” he said. “If we're willing to regularly violate nuclear-armed Pakistan's sovereignty with drone strikes, why not Iraq’s?”
But any investment of U.S. resources is not likely to change the broader situation in Iraq, Knights said.
“We're stuck on a plateau of instability in Iraq that cannot be fixed until the Iraqi government embraces sectarian reconciliation and until the Iraqi military re-adopts population-focused counter-insurgency,” he said. “Iraq is going to look a lot like it does today for years.”
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