- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2014

At top foreign policy think tank in Washington offered an alarming assessment Iraq’s devolving security situation on Monday and lambasted the Mideast nation’s Shiite Muslim prime minister for exploiting sectarian divisions in a “relentless search for power.”

While a surge of al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim terrorist activity in Iraq has drawn international attention during recent days, the report by the Center for Strategic International Studies said the U.S. should be cautious about rushing to the aid of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight back.

“It’s hard to think of measures that could do more damage than backing Maliki without regard to his relentless search for power, repression and misuse of the Iraqi security forces, and exploitation of Iraq’s sectarian divisions between Shiite and Sunni,” said the report, authored by Middle East-focused analysts Anthony Cordesman and Sam Khazai.

The overall security situation in Iraq has worsened since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. and other international military forces from the nation.

Following reports over the weekend that al Qaeda linked fighters had taken control of key areas in the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Ramadi — two areas that were among the most restive in Iraq during the nearly decade-long U.S. military occupation of the nation — U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the Obama administration is not considering sending U.S. forces back to Iraq.

On Monday, however, the White House said the Obama administration will send dozens of drones and missiles to aid the Maliki government in its fight against the resurgent Sunni extremists.

“We’re working closely with the Iraqis to develop a holistic strategy to isolate the al Qaeda-affiliated groups,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “Now, this situation remains fluid and it’s too early to tell or make conclusions about it, but we’re accelerating our Foreign Military Sales deliveries.”

It remains to be seen how, or how quickly, the development may impact events unfolding on the ground.

While Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) assessment Monday said “No outside power can change the situation,” the assessment also maintained that carefully tailored U.S. counterterrorism aid to Baghdad may be key to countering efforts by other regional powers — particularly Iran — to control Iraq’s political fate.

“U.S. support of Iraq’s security efforts is one of the few areas where the United States retains major leverage in dealing with Iraq and countering Iranian influence,” states an executive summary of the CSIS report.

But the summary also stressed that the volatility in parts of Iraq are a “largely a self-inflicted wound and one self-inflicted by its present government.”

“The resurgence of al Qaeda and other extremist movements, and the growing depth of its sectarian and ethnic divisions is the fault of its political leaders, not outside states or a lack of Iraqi nationalism and inherent forces within Iraqi society,” the report said. “Like so much of the Arab world, Iraq cannot succeed through denial of its real world challenges or export the blame even when that blame is valid.”

“It also cannot be ‘fixed’ by U.S. aid to its military or counterterrorism forces that does not address Iraq’s political failures and mistakes. Iraq’s progress depends on the willingness of its political leaders to turn away from a narrow focus on their own position sect, ethnicity, and faction,” the report said.