Sanders: Because Iraq is not ‘one people,' it will always be in conflict

Fort Worth Star-TelegramJune 20, 2014 

Once the United States had extricated itself from the quagmire known as the Iraq war, many people assumed that the United States would let the country stand on its own, able to defend its borders and newfound democracy.

But in truth, while Iraq had the external trappings of a democracy, it was anything but. Its ineffective and corrupt leadership, propped up by the United States, divided the country further rather than unite it, all the while fueling a growing insurgency.

In recent days the opposition to the government has thrown Iraq back into a civil war in which rebel forces have taken major cities and ruthlessly killed scores of Iraqi soldiers. Once again Iraqi families are being displaced as they flee their homes to avoid the Sunni-dominated militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

And the U.S. government is in a quandary about how to aid its “ally.”

Some members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to move more quickly to help stop the insurgency, but they have no solid ideas of how to do that without putting combat troops back in Iraq. Airstrikes are a possibility but also present a risk as the rebel fighters are among civilian populations in the cities.

The president has announced that he is sending up to 275 troops to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, with the possibility of deploying a limited group of special forces troops to help advise and train Iraqis.

Like it or not, we’re back in it, folks.

This country should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. I won’t dwell on that because I lost that argument more than 10 years ago.

What do we have to show for our efforts — the lives lost; the money spent?

Not much that I can see.

More than 4,400 American troops were killed and more than 32,000 wounded in a war that should never have been waged. Iraqi civilian deaths during the eight years of conflict numbered well in excess of 50,000, with some estimates as high as 100,000.

At the time when Vice President Dick Cheney was predicting that American troops would be “greeted as liberators” and that democracy would replace a dictator in Iraq, I proclaimed that you cannot impose democracy on a country. This is especially true in a place where the people have more allegiance to a sect than they do their nation.

It was clear that Iraq would never be one people, as sectarian conflicts have existed there for over 1,000 years. How arrogant of our country’s leaders to think we could change that with military troops, modern weaponry and money.

We are now witnessing the results of failed policies and false assumptions, miscalculations from the beginning in which we as a nation thought our might was enough to suppress an ideology while establishing a democratic government.

I don’t know what we can do now to save Iraq from itself, and regardless of what happens, this country will have had a hand in it. I’m reminded of the warning Colin Powell gave to President Bush before the invasion in 2003: “If you break it, you own it.”

Obama has some tough decisions to make, and sadly he'll do so with some members of Congress — those who can’t bring themselves ever to unite behind this president — hoping more for failure than success.

No matter what happens next, the people of Iraq will undergo more suffering. I feel for them, particularly those who would love to live in peace and occupy a land where children can be educated and all its citizens (including women) would be treated equally.

Perhaps one day they will reside in a democracy. If so, it will be because they fought for it, not because the U.S. bestowed it on them.

Email Mr. Sanders at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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