- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Aug. 11, 2014

Back To Iraq: Our Never-Ending War?

Alas, to borrow what long ago became an overused play on words, America really does seem to be between Iraq and a hard place.

And we’re learning that there is no sure way of completely extracting ourselves from the war we ignited in Iraq 11 years ago.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would be launching airstrikes on the Islamic State group - known as ISIS - that has unleashed a ghastly reign of terror across parts of Iraq and Syria, and has become the newest rogue element to destabilize the tenuous (and, really, mostly nonexistent) stability of the Middle East region.

Besides using airstrikes and drone attacks to soften up ISIS forces, the U.S. and other nations are pledging humanitarian aid to refugees, includes at least 50,000 Yazidis trapped on a mountain.

So, despite the U.S. pulling out its combat troops in 2011, we find ourselves embroiled in hostilities there again - or still, if you wish to connect all the dots.

Soberingly, Obama noted Saturday, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long-term project.”

Iraq is once again our problem.

In fact, it has never stopped being our problem, even after we left three years ago.

When we marched into Iraq in 2003 and took out Saddam Hussein, we created a dangerous vacuum in that part of the world. When democracy was finally introduced, we genuinely believed that Iraq would finally grow into a self-sufficient nation that could both govern and defend itself.

What we’ve witnessed instead was the installation of corrupt regime under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who promptly refused to do what we had advised (and probably plead for) him to do: to establish an inclusive government that would also represent all of the nation’s interests. Instead, al-Maliki began excluding Sunnis from key positions and even reportedly conducted systematic persecution.

Enter into this the Islamic State group, an organization so violent and extreme that even al-Qaida, from which ISIS sprang, wanted nothing to do with it. Its murderous, absolutist dogma has led to the mass slaughter of non-Sunnis Muslims, Christians and anyone else who came across their path. Well-funded and well-armed, ISIS began carving up Iraq and Syria to establish its own state.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi army virtually melted in the face of ISIS forces, leading to huge gains by the organization.

We must now return to a country from which we left in 2011 on poor terms. As Obama recounted Saturday, the U.S. left Iraq three years ago in large part because we were no longer wanted there. The Baghdad government refused to sign a security pact that would have protected U.S. troops from prosecution, and a large segment of the Iraqi population wanted us gone. Had we stayed anyway, we would have been seen as - and in fact would have become - occupiers.

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