The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. and a major pro-American Iraqi political leader are voicing their frustration with a lack of counter-terrorism assistance from the U.S.
Former Prime Minister Allawi says a Russian “crescent” has developed over the region and blasted America’s treatment of Iran.
The Iraqi government has requested U.S. military assistance in combating the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) terrorist group that controls significant parts of Iraq and Syria. The Obama Administration has sent about 750 advisors to Iraq. The Iraqis are requesting military equipment and airstrikes, not combat forces.
Iran and Russia are moving in to fill the void. The Iranian regime is ramping up covert operations in support of Prime Minister al-Maliki, and Russia has provided fighter jets and reportedly even pilots.
Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister from 2004 to 2005, is widely regarded as one of the most pro-American figures in the country. He is a Shiite, but his secular orientation and staunch opposition to Iran has made him well-liked by Sunnis. His cross-sectarian bloc won the most votes in the 2010 elections.
His voice is precisely the kind we need to be listening to. And he does not speak well of current U.S. policy:
“U.S. policy has been without [a] compass and sailed in rough seas, which the United States helped make rough—whether intentionally or unintentionally, the result in the same,” Allawi said.
He specifically cited the U.S. backing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2010, even though his coalition won the most votes. He cited it as “further evidence of the U.S. disarray, as is siding with Iran.”
“Many now doubt [American] abilities and whether it has a clear orientation,” Allawi explains.
The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, has a similar message. Even though the Iranian regime supports al-Maliki, his government went out on a limb to request American help against the Islamic State terrorist. The Iranian regime opposes U.S. involvement and one of its major allies in Iraq threatened any American advisors that arrive.
“The U.S. is our strategic partner of choice … Our current situation is an important acid test to the strength of that relationship between the two countries,” Faily said.
He said that Iraq asked to be sold Apache helicopters over a year ago, a weapon which would have stopped the rise of the Islamic State.
American reluctance has put Iraq “in an uncomfortable position in seeking support from whoever is available on the ground,” Faily explains.
The end result is that Iraqis doubt the U.S. can be relied on in fighting terrorism. He said:
“A lot of people in different positions in government, in addition to the people of Iraq are asking us, would the U.S. support a democratically elected government in this war on aggression by an international terrorist organization? That is a serious question for the U.S. to answer.”
Allawi points out that Iraq’s alternative partner is not just Iran, but Russia—and that has grave geopolitical consequences.
“What’s happening at the global level is the beginning of a new cold war. If we examine Russia’s influence map, we see a crescent stretching from the Crimea and the Black Sea through Iran, Iraq, Syria and part of Lebanon. This Russian area of influence may expand,” he warns.
Russian President Putin is adept at maintaining current alliances with countries like Iran and Syria while scooping up disgruntled U.S. allies.
When the Islamic State (then known as ISIS) took over one-third of Iraq, Putin immediately declared his "full support" for the Iraqi government in stopping the terrorist group. When the U.S. hesitated to provide combat aircraft, Russia transferred a dozen fighter jets and the required advisors in what the New York Times accurately reported “was at least an implicit rebuke to the United States.”
When the U.S. criticized the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and cut military aid, Putin again stepped in. Russia endorsed Egypt’s “fight against terrorism” and the two countries signed a $2 billion arms deal. Egyptian President El-Sisi’s first trip abroad was to Russia, where he was photographed wearing a jacket with a red star that Putin gave to him.
Other countries took notice.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain, a U.S. ally, criticized American Middle Eastern policy as suffering from “schizophrenia,” particularly in regards to Egypt and Iran. He predicted that his country and other Arabs would turn to Russia despite ferocious disagreements with Putin’s behavior because, “The Russians have proven that they are reliable friends.”
Saudi Arabia reportedly offered Russia a strategic alliance and oil deal in exchange for ditching the Syrian regime. Putin rejected it, but the Saudi decision is significant nonetheless. The Saudis are also eyeing a “strategic partnership” with China.
Putin is also trying to position Russia as a competitor to the West for the future of Christianity. Even though his government arms oppressors of Christians, he has called for a global alliance to stand against persecution of Christians.
Some Iraqi Christians, disillusioned with the U.S., see Putin as their hope. The leader of the Assyrian Patriotic Movement, a group that wants a Christian state within Iraq, is one example. The leadership is emphatically pro-Russian, even defending Putin’s annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine as “pleasant news for oppressed Christians around the world.”
American partners will not allow themselves to be seen as prey. If the U.S. is seen as unreliable, they will seek stable replacements. The memory of this unfortunate experience with the U.S. will not go away overnight, making it exceedingly difficult to undo the damage.
If the West won’t stand up to its adversaries, then neither will the West’s partners.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.