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Bush Intervenes with Sunni Sheiks as Iraqi Government Faces Crisis

February 16, 2015

Even as Islamic State fighters battle Iraqi forces in western Iraq near a base where hundreds of American troops are currently stationed, the government in Baghdad is facing a new crisis. On Friday, Sunni tribal leader Sheik Qasim al-Janabi, his son and six bodyguards were killed by unidentified Shiite militiamen in Baghdad. In the aftermath of the attack, Sunni members of Parliament threatened to withdraw from the unity government led by Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. As it turns out, the tumult came just days after former President George W. Bush personally intervened with a Sunni tribal delegation visiting Washington to back their call for the U.S. to sidestep al-Abadi by directly providing them with weapons and assistance in the fight against ISIS.

As Mark Perry documented in Politico, Bush called Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of the Sunni Awakening that preceded the 2007 American surge in Iraq, to offer support and advice in pressuring the Obama administration to ship them weapons directly rather than through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:

Abu Risha, the president of the powerful Anbar Awakening Council, said Bush listened carefully as the sheik explained in a 20-minute conversation that the Anbar tribesmen were unlikely to get any weapons from the Iraqi government, which, as Abu Risha claimed, is notoriously corrupt, beholden to Tehran and more interested in arming Shia militias than Sunni tribesmen. Bush urged Abu Risha to extend his stay and meet with retired Gen. David Petraeus, as well as with Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. According to Abu Risha, Bush pledged that he would "do everything I can" to help him get a hearing in Washington.

If accurate, the story is doubly disturbing. For starters, there is no indication that Bush coordinated with tor informed the Obama administration before making his call. (Perry interviewed no sources from the White House or the State Department, relying instead only members of Abu Risha's delegation and its supporters in the U.S., like retired Marine Col. John Coleman.) More appalling still, the simmering tensions between the Anbar Sunnis and Tehran's allies in Baghdad is largely due to President Bush himself.
After his invasion opened a Pandora's Box of sectarian conflict in Iraq, President Bush made a Faustian bargain to restore some semblance of peace and stability in the country. While backing Bush's hand-picked Shiite strong man Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the U.S. armed and funded the Sunni tribes in Anbar province whose fighters played a decisive part in rolling back Al Qaeda in Iraq. But Maliki predictably betrayed the Sunni Awakening and its 90,000 Sons of Iraq before American troops left the country. Maliki's crackdown on his Sunni opponents helped pave the way for the ISIS conquests in northwestern Iraq, a development which led the Obama administration to support his ouster and the new Abadi government.
Now, there is little question that defeating the Islamic State in Iraq will require the active support of Abu Risha and his Sunni allies. To date, the Shiite-led Iraqi army has proven itself incapable of defending Sunni cities and towns, places in which the Baghdad government regardless had already alienated the local populations. But while the Obama administration is trying to encourage a rapprochement between the Anbar sheiks and Abadi, Bush, McCain, Graham and their corner apparently have another agenda:

The result of these exchanges--the Bush telephone call and the meetings with Petraeus, McCain and Graham--seemed to confirm for Abu Risha that while the administration was committed to defeating the Islamic State, its opposition to arming the tribes by bypassing the Abadi government reflected its fears that to do so would offend Tehran--and endanger the P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program.

Of course, Iraq's conversion into an Iranian ally was guaranteed the moment U.S. troops first crossed the border back in 2003. The festering sectarian conflict was virtually assured when the Bush administration simultaneously backed the Sunni Awakening and Iran's man in Baghdad, Nouri Al-Maliki. And now, apparently, the arsonist who started the fire is working behind the scenes to put it out.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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