- - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Commanding American service personnel during multiple tours of duty in Iraq was one of the greatest honors of my life. Developing an unbreakable bond with the fellow warriors while serving the cause of democracy is an honor. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the results of our risks and sacrifices have been completely undermined.

Back in 2005, Ibrahim al-Jafari became the first prime minister of a new, independent and democratic Iraq. He was soon forced out of power owing to ineffective leadership and was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki. Instead of working to correct past mistakes and to build Iraq’s then-still promising future, Mr. al-Maliki chose consolidation of power and alliance with Iran.

A Shiite, Mr. al-Maliki has persecuted Sunnis, Iranian dissidents and even those Shiites who he considered to be his rivals, depriving them of jobs, funding for infrastructure, their right to a fair trial and education — reducing their lives to a constant state of misery. Iraq’s current issues with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jeopardize the progress Iraqi and American troops paid for with blood, sweat, tears — and all too often, our lives. The fault lies with Mr. al-Maliki.

ISIS is a terrible terrorist organization guilty of war crimes, but its members have been given support by Sunni Iraqis and helped by Iraqi army troops in Sunni areas because Sunnis refused to be subjected to any more tyranny. Now the U.S. government stumbles for an answer, while every day the Iranian influence gets stronger in Iraq. The United States government must take decisive action to remove the factor that sustains ISIS — the ineffectual, undemocratic and Iran-dictated rule of Mr. al-Maliki. His predecessor, Mr. al-Jafari, was forced out for much less.

American and coalition warriors did not risk their lives for Iraq to be run by a man who has persecuted his people, deprived them of democracy and acted as the Iranian regime’s puppet time and time again. The vast majority of Iraqis feel the same way. Now is the time to use our national power and remaining influence to restore the gains we made in Iraq. Too many American and Iraqi lives have been torn apart and lost for us to sit idle. To do so will result in the loss of all credibility in the region and allow evil to flourish.

This topic played a central role in a conference I attended in Paris recently, a conference of more than 100,000 Iranians, top dignitaries and political figures from around the world. The conference outlined a way forward in the region to build an Iran that is fully democratic and peaceful.

To these Iranians, and to the politicians attending whose views span the political spectrum, Iraq is an important part of Iran’s democratic transition. In fighting for democracy instead of supporting an Iranian puppet, the United States would help strike a blow to the regime and possibly start a domino effect through the region. If those who are fighting to throw off the oppressive yoke of Iranian dictatorship see action in Iraq, it will embolden them. Iranian fundamentalists are in fear of a successful democracy in a bordering country. Since the departure of American troops from Iraq, the only thing our government has achieved is allaying their fear.

Positive action needn’t take the lives of any more American service personnel, nor should it cost the lives of innocent Iraqis. Helping the Iraqi people oust this oppressive, undemocratic Iranian puppet and replacing his regime with a truly representative one will lead to a functional Iraq. Failing to take this step will undoubtedly lead to more violence and continue this downward spiral, which will completely waste what 4,485 Americans lost their lives trying to achieve.

The choice is clear: the American people must call upon their representatives to help Iraq and save the lives of innocent people. Remaining silent in the face of such evil acts will only embolden the perpetrators.

Retired Army Col. Wesley Martin is a former senior officer for coalition forces in Iraq, a former operations chief, and former base commander in Ashraf, Iraq.

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