President Obama’s decision to send up to 275 troops to the American embassy in Baghdad might only delay a future in which Iraq splits into three different countries, separated along religious and ethnic lines.
Late Monday, Obama notified Congress that he was sending additional security personnel -- 100 Special Operations Forces to the American outpost in Baghdad, where some 5,000 people work. These troops join 160 troops who are already there, including 50 Marines and some 100 Army soldiers.
Obama has placed an additional 100 troops in a nearby country, ready to assist in Baghdad as needed. These troops can quickly travel to the Iraqi capitol to shore up American defenses if the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) moves to capture Baghdad.
The prospect of Iraq breaking apart would be a body blow to American foreign policy cultivated over the last decade and a half. Americans have invested more than a trillion dollars—and thousands of American lives—in a stable Iraq.
Obama’s decision is also a reflection of just how quickly the security situation in Baghdad has degenerated. Ten days ago, ISIS was largely contained in southern Syria. Now, militants from the group are on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.
The possibility that Iraq could split into three separate territories, all with different goals, is developing quickly. In the country’s northeast, Kurdish Peshmerga have taken control of Kirkuk, creating a front against ISIS while moving one step closer to the Kurds long-held dream of an oil-producing independent Kurdish state. Iran has pledged to assist Shiites in central Iraq to hold their territory. In northwest Iraq, ISIS appears determined to advance on Baghdad.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has opened a line of dialogue with Iran, a Shiite majority country, as prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for his followers to take up arms against the Sunni ISIS.
Kerry said that the United States would consider “a very thorough vetting of every option that is available…when you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that—from the air or otherwise,” Kerry told Yahoo global anchor Katie Couric in an interview Monday.
“I wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive,” Kerry added.
Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby tempered Kerry’s comments. Kirby said the United States has “no intentions, no plans to coordinate military activities with Iran.”
Christian Whiton, a former Bush administration State Department senior advisor, is closely watching Iraq’s lines of demarcation.
“Kurdistan is effectively an independent state, and seems likely to be cut off from Shiite Iraq by Sunni Iraq. Even if not in name, we are now dealing with three Iraqs,” Whiton told The Fiscal Times.
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