Don’t Go Back to Iraq!


There is no military solution in Iraq—so end the threats of U.S. airstrikes, bring home the Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around. (Photo: Jayel Aheram / Flickr)

This is how wars begin.

Barack Obama says we’re not going back to Iraq. “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq,” he said on June 19th, “but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”

The White House says it’s “only” sending 275 soldiers to protect the embassy, it’s only sending 300 Special Forces, they’re only “advisers.” There’s only one aircraft carrier in the region, they say, and a few other warships. They’re considering missile strikes but they’re not going to send ground troops.

Iraq isn’t a start-up war for the United States—we’ve been there before. And these actions increase the danger we could be heading there again. We thought we had a president who learned the lesson, at least about Iraq—he even repeats it every chance he gets: “There is no military solution.”

This is a very dangerous move. President Obama’s words are right: there is no military solution.But his actions are wrong. When there is no military solution, airstrikes, Special Forces, arms deals, and aircraft carriers will only make it worse.

We need to stop it now. Before the first Special Forces guy gets captured and suddenly there are boots on the ground to find him. Before the first surveillance plane gets shot down and suddenly there are helicopter crews and more boots on the ground to rescue the pilot. Before the first missile hits a wedding party that some faulty intel guy thought looked like a truckload of terrorists—we seem to be good at that. And before we’re fully back at war.

Iraq is on the verge of full-scale civil war along the fault lines set in place when U.S. troops invaded and occupied the country more than a decade ago. We need to demand that our government do five things right away:

First, do no harm. There is no military solution in Iraq—so end the threats of airstrikes, bring home the evac troops and Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around.

Second, call for and support an immediate arms embargo on all sides. That means pressuring U.S. regional allies to stop providing weapons and money to various militias.

Third, engage immediately with Iran to bring pressure to bear on the Iraqi government to end its sectarian discrimination, its violence against civilians, and its violations of human rights.

Fourth, engage with Russia and other powers to get the United Nations to take the lead in organizing international negotiations for a political solution to the crisis now enveloping Iraq as well as Syria. Those talks must include all sides, including non-violent Syrian and Iraqi activists, civil society organizations, women, and representatives of refugees and displaced people forced from their homes. All relevant outside parties, including Iran, must be included. Building on the success of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, Washington should continue to broaden its engagement with Tehran with the goal of helping to bring the Syrian and Iraqi wars to an immediate end.

Fifth, get help to the people who need it. The Iraq war is creating an enormous new refugee and humanitarian crisis, escalating the crisis of the Syrian war, and spreading across the entire region. The United States has pledged one of the largest grants of humanitarian aid for refugees from Syria, but it is still too small, and much of it has not been paid out. Simultaneously with the announcement of an immediate arms embargo, Washington should announce a major increase in humanitarian assistance for all refugees in the region to be made immediately available to UN agencies, and call on other countries to do the same.

This is how wars can be stopped.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

  • Jon D

    Points two and three simply won’t happen. This is a regional war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both sides have zero incentive to go along with an arms embargo, which would be impossible to enforce even if it happens. In the context of Iraq I agree this is a political problem but it is being massively amplified by the regional changes currently underway. The Iranians don’t want a Sunni power base on their border and the Saudis don’t want a Shia proxy on their border.

    • Sam Badger

      They might agree to it if it is mutual. Of course, this might be unlikely, but somehow the US and USSR agreed to temporarily mitigate their ambitions in a particular area in favor of stability (Korea in the 50s, Cuba in the early 60s come to mind as two examples). It also might not really work to stop private citizens from sending money either.

  • Justin Waters

    Sixth, please use headings, so we can find the points more easily. 😉

  • Rene Wadlow

    Iraq: What does one do with the broken pieces?

    Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

    There is the legendary sign in shops selling china and porcelain “Do not
    touch; If you break it, you buy it”. The same sign should have
    been hung at the entry to Bagdad rather than portraits of Saddam
    Husaein. With Iraq in armed confusion as sectors of the country
    change side, and the Iraqi government seems incapable of an
    adequate response other than to call for military help, as
    concerned world citizens we must ask ourselves “What can we do?”

    The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have broken down a wall
    on the frontier between Iraq and Syria as a symbol of abolishing
    national frontiers to be replaced by a community of the Islamic
    faithful − the umma. In some ways, we are back to the early days
    of the post-World War One period when France and England tried
    to re-structure that part of the Ottoman Empire that is now
    Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and an
    ill-defined Kurdistan. During 1915, Sir Mark Sykes, a Tory M.P.
    and a specialist on Turkish affairs and Francois Picot, a French
    political figure with strong links to colonial factions in the
    French Senate negotiated how to re-structure the Ottoman Empire
    to the benefit of England and France. Although these were
    considered “secret negotiations” Sykes reported to Lord
    Kitchener, the War Minister, and Picot had joined the French
    Foreign Ministry as war service. However, both operated largely
    as “free agents”. Today Sykes and Picot are recalled for no
    other achievement than their talent in dividing. The agreement
    between them was signed in January 1916 but kept in a draw until
    the war was over. In April 1920 at San Remo, France and England
    made the divisions official.

    History has moved on, but dividing and re-structuring remains the order of the
    day. The political structures of Israel-Palestine as one state,
    two states, or one state and occupied territories have
    confronted the best of mediators − and less talented mediators
    as well. With the war in Syria continuing, there have been
    suggestions to divide − or federate −the state into three parts:
    an Alawite-Shi’ite area, a Sunni area, and a Kurdish area. The
    same divisions had been suggested for Iraq earlier and are again
    being discussed in the light of the ISIS advances: a Shi’ite
    area in the south, Kurds in the north − already largely
    independent − and Sunnis in the Middle. Lebanon, although not a
    federal state, is largely structured on sectarian-geographic

    Constitution-making under duress is not the best way of doing things. Forced
    federalism presents even more difficulties than creating a
    federal state when people are not fighting each other. We have
    seen the difficulties of proposing federal structures for
    Ukraine, federalism seen by some as a prelude to the
    disintegration of the state. The difficulties in the wider
    Middle East are even greater, as we have three states directly
    involved: Iraq, Syria, Turkey with a well organized and armed
    Kurdish community in Iraq and parts of Syria.

    The Kurds had expected that a Kurdistan would be recognized after World War
    One. The issue was raised at a conference to set Middle East
    frontiers held in June 1923 in Lausanne. The failure of the
    Kurds to achieve their goal for independence and the forced
    inclusion of their mountainous homeland within the then newly
    created states of Iraq, Syria and Turkey caused resentment and
    unrest. All the Kurds received in 1923 was a pledge to respect
    minority rights. By 1924, the Turkish government had banned all
    Kurdish schools, organizations, publications, and religious Sufi
    brotherhoods. In 1925, there was the first of the Kurdish
    revolts in Turkey, which, on-and-off, continue to today.

    As outsiders but as specialists in federal forms of government, is there anything
    which we can do to be helpful? Maps are deceptive, and what is
    drawn as Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish area in Iraq and Syria have,
    in fact, mixed populations. Nor are religious-sectarian divisions the only lines of fracture.

    Nevertheless, discussions among Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, Iranians and outside
    specialists on forms of government may be of greater use than
    sending Special Forces as ‘intelligence’ specialists. Such
    discussions will not be easy to organize or to facilitate but in
    a period of constitutionsal disorder and flux, such efforts are

  • twopesos

    Thank you Phyllis Bennis

  • NoMoreLies1

    I would like a sip of whatever it is you are drinking Phyllis. Seems to make the world a rosy, gentle, understanding place. No connection to reality but soothing.

  • Argaman

    And the Yazidis? Let’s leave them to be slaughtered by ISIS. And the Christians? Let ISIS blow up their churches. Simple, problem solved.

  • Test123

    Phyllis Bennis, you are foolish to think this crap. IS wants to fight the USA. No form of diplomacy or concessions will deter these guys. So either we take it to them now or kick that familiar can down the road and allow them to become more formidable. Am I crazy for thinking this?

  • Ze Do Malho

    negociate with isis?
    are you stupid?
    You go first!!!!