Opening up My Yahoo! this morning yielded quite a surprise. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq? The surprise was not due to the event, but the low attention paid by the conservative media. This event is a witness to how poorly we have progressed in Iraq.
A little history… In the Iraq – Iran contra back in the 1980’s, over one million Iraqis and Iranians lost their lives in a war which brought national attention. Guns were sold to Saddam Hussein to advance America’s denouncement of Iran. One of the more interesting photo ops was snapped, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld greeted Saddam in a friendly handshake signifying America’s support of the conflict. With our current involvement and the events leading up to the war, our press and presidency have portrayed Iraq as a longstanding enemy of the US. In the 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush’s reinvented “Axis of Evil” tied Iraq in with the likes of North Korea and Iran. How did the relationship of the United States and Iraq fall out of sync so quickly? The answer is Desert Storm, the early 90’s conflict between the US and Iraq in which Kuwait was proclaimed Iraqi territory.
When Iraq decided to repossess the small oil-rich country, they did so with the understanding that the United States would remain neutral in the takeover. What happened next was quite surprising to Saddam and the Sunni controlled government. The conflict was sold to the American public as a bloodied takeover by the Iraqis, when in reality the truth was less dramatic. The Kuwaiti defense was minimal at best, and the Iraqis met little to no resistance (some estimate that 200 died in the skirmish). Unlike our current Iraq war, this was actually about oil. Iraq wanted to take back possession of Kuwait and their rich oil fields (in the mid 1900’s, England decided to split Iraq and Kuwait and annexed the country), and America realized the increased scale and power Iraq would possess with the expanding commodity (actually, I am not sure we really understand the underlying driving force).
When the US became engaged in the conflict, Iraq must have felt betrayed by their previous ally and cowardly started firing scud missiles toward Kuwait and Israel. America’s offense increased (Operation “Desert Shield” became “Desert Storm”), and thousands of unequipped and poorly trained Iraqi soldiers lost their lives. America’s casualties numbered in the hundreds, with the majority resulting from accidental weapons malfunctions. Iraqi forces were driven back into Iraq, and the conflict ended as quickly as it began. This was the beginning of the third member of the “Axis of Evil”, as Saddam felt betrayed by the US and revolted against imposed UN sanctions later in the decade.
Fast forward to 2008: Iran has always been at odds with the US as well as with the Sunni controlled Iraq. Saddam, though a terrorizing dictator, was able to keep Iran suppressed and stabile in the region. The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites stems from thousands of years of in fighting and civil unrest. Through America’s influence, control in Iraq was transferred from the Sunnis to Shiites. The majority Shiites are now looking to avenge the Sunni oppression, with civil war appearing inevitable. Currently American troupes stand in the way of widespread chaos, offering stability. However, this proves a tough situation for the Sunnis, who fear retaliation from the majority power Shiites and their once bitter neighbor, Iran.
Enter Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The anti-American dictator now possesses a greater influence within the new Government of Iraq. There have already been reports of Iran supplying weapons to Shiite extremists, a real problem for the US. Ahmadinejad’s growing relationship with Shiites defies America’s best interest, and is an alarming bi-product of the Iraq war. However, it not unreasonable to believe that this specific situation was foreseen and ignored by the White House in making the decision to go to war. Perhaps we underestimated the deep routed conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis, or downplayed the real possibility of civil war. Regardless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Iraq, and He is there to stay.