The ominous resurgence of major al-Qaida-linked Islamic militancy in Iraq, with key cities effectively falling into the hands of the Sunni jihadists, is a grim reminder of just how imperative it is an agreement be reached to enable a residual U.S. and coalition force to remain in Afghanistan.
Such an agreement for a residual force in Iraq, had the Obama administration succeeded in negotiating it with Baghdad ahead of the drawdown of forces, might have gone a significant way toward heading off the strategic disaster now evident. It is vital Washington does not give up on a forces agreement with Kabul, fraught though negotiations have become with President Hamid Karzai.
Maintaining a residual force in Iraq that would enable Washington to continue to influence the country’s development was a key objective of coalition policy. In his rush to claim the political kudos for ending a highly unpopular war started by his predecessor, George W. Bush, President Barack Obama failed to successfully negotiate a deal with Baghdad.
While it would be wrong to blame the jihadist resurgence on that failure, there seems little doubt that a residual force along the lines that was projected would have helped enormously in helping Iraqi forces deal with a crisis that is threatening to descend into full-scale civil war. It might also have helped persuade Iraqi Prime Minister Noori al-Malaki, a hard-line Shi’ite and nationalist, of the dangers of the policy of blatant Shia sectarianism he has relentlessly pursued, and the importance of seeking genuine post-war reconciliation.
The situation in Afghanistan, while different, underlines the importance of concluding the bilateral security agreement with Kabul. For his own political ends, the unpredictable Karzai is making it as difficult as possible to conclude the agreement. Iraq shows the importance of Washington’s negotiators not giving up and of persisting in ensuring that a deal is done.