Selling Iraq “The Weapons It Needs” Would Be a Mistake

The United States should learn to live with the fact with Iraq cannot be made into an ally anymore.

An F-16 fighter jet taxis onto the ramp at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 30, 2012
An F-16 fighter jet taxis onto the ramp at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 30, 2012 (USAF/Sergeant Stephen Hudson)

As Iraqi army units are battling Al Qaeda militants on the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi, Foreign Policy magazine’s Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson wonder why the United States won’t sell attack helicopters and fighter jets to the country if they could turn the tide in recapturing both cities. Yet they know why and simply don’t seem to care.

Apache helicopters and F-16s, which the Iraqi government has repeatedly requested from the United States, “would change the situation on the ground,” they write, “by giving Iraqi commanders the ability to destroy Al Qaeda targets from the air and prevent reinforcements from reaching the cities.”

The authors also know the reason the United States have been reluctant to provide Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government with such airpower, however.

Some powerful lawmakers simply don’t trust Maliki to only use them against Al Qaeda fighters and other militants. Congressional opponents of the deal instead worry the Iraqi prime minister might one day use them against domestic enemies from the country’s restive Sunni minority.

Maliki, a Shia Muslim, is seen by many Sunnis in the country as favoring his own sect over theirs and has, since American troops pulled out of the country in late 2011, restored relations with neighboring Iran, a Shia nation. The threat of an Iraqi rapprochement with Iran is probably why Saudi Arabia and other majority Sunni countries in the Persian Gulf — all American allies — continue to prop up the Sunni insurgency in the west of Iraq.

A Maliki armed with Apaches and F-16s would pose an even greater threat to both Iraq’s Sunnis and America’s allies in the region. Dreazen and Hudson seem to recognize as much yet advocate giving him such power anyway. Why? To help drive religious fanatics out of places are no longer a concern of the United States’.

That very disregard of America’s interests got the country bogged down in two Middle East wars in the last decade and nearly a third last year. It made the mistake of abandoning Iraq in 2011. It should now learn to live with an unfriendly regime in Iraq that cannot after all be made into an ally by selling it a few helicopters and planes.

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