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John Kerry and Nuri al-Maliki (Foto: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

America's interests in Iraq

Miodrag Soric / re
June 30, 2014

What are the US' goals in the fight against the ISIS extremists in Iraq? Mainly their own security. It is secondary for the US if the Iraq breaks apart, says Miodrag Soric.


US President Barack Obama's poll ratings are at rock bottom. But when it comes to Iraq, most Americans are backing him: Washington should not send ground troops: from the administration's point of view, Baghdad is a hopeless case. The government is assuming that Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue their proxy war in Iraq. It seems that the conflict can't be solved militarily. So better stay out of it.

That is, if only it wasn't for ISIS extremists bringing large parts of Iraq under their control, destabilizing Syria, and perhaps sooner or later threatening Jordan, Lebanon, maybe even Israel. That's why the US can't leave the region alone. There is too much at stake - possibly even America's homeland security. The US can't look away when Islamists use the civil war in Iraq to maintain terrorist camps.

To bring it down to its simplest denominator, this is the US' prime strategic goal: to prevent danger to the US and its allies in the region. At the end of the day, it is secondary if Iraq has a strong central government or splits into three parts, if for instance the north is controlled by Kurds, the west by Sunnis, and Baghdad and the south by Shiites. What if Iraq were to actually break apart? The Americans are pragmatic. Vice President Joe Biden, who has spoken to Iraq's Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki on the phone a dozen times and has met him personally often in the past year, already proposed a split in 2006. Of course, no one knows whether this would actually make the region more stable.

Miodrag Soric (Foto: DW)
Miodrag Soric is DW correspondent in WashingtonImage: DW

Preparing for the worst case

In the short-term, Washington wants to weaken ISIS or even better: drive it out. That's why the US has sent military advisors to the region; that's why the US is secretly negotiating with Iran; that's why Secretary of State John Kerry is making it clear to Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf States that tolerating or financing ISIS is unacceptable.

In the meantime Washington is preparing for the worst case scenario: an ISIS advance on Baghdad. It is well known that the US keeps the world's biggest embassy in the Iraqi capital, with some 5,000 employees. If the Iraqi army collapses, the US has to be able to evacuate the diplomats and their families within days. There are at least eight US war ships in the Persian Gulf. and they should be able to manage this task. But we have not reached that point - yet.

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