Return to Iraq: The U.S. must guard against re-intervention

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Apart from Americans’ humanitarian concern, it is hard to see why President Barack Obama is beginning to re-engage the United States in Iraq’s wars 32 months after U.S. forces were withdrawn from that troubled country.

It is easy to see why Washington does not want to see the realm of the Islamic State expand further, including by encroachment into what Kurds consider their part of Iraq. For them, protected by the United States since 1991, the territory and its capital Irbil are the center of what Kurdish irredentists see as an eventual independent Kurdistan, to include parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, regardless of those countries’ sovereignty.

It has also not been encouraging, particularly for the Pentagon, to see the Kurds’ vaunted Peshmerga militia, trained and armed by the United States, collapsing in the face of ISIS forces, who are armed partly with U.S. weapons captured from Baghdad government forces that America once trained.

Mr. Obama’s argument that the United States needs to re-intervene in Iraq for humanitarian reasons, to protect Yazidi and Christian minorities from ISIS, is hard to dispute. But it would make more sense to expatriate them to Turkey or elsewhere than to carry out airstrikes, particularly given the universal danger of civilian deaths from military action.

Another sensitive point is that it is hard to carry out airstrikes without boots on the ground to help target them. In addition, U.S. interest in Iraq’s Kurdish region is not entirely humanitarian, apart from what Mr. Obama may say. American companies, including Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, have contracts and other relationships to profit from Kurdish oil. The United States has also maintained the Army Irregular Warfare intelligence “fusion center” in Irbil, as well as in the capital Baghdad, a unit that stayed behind when the bulk of U.S. forces withdrew at the end of 2011.

On balance, humanitarian help to rescue Iraqi religious minorities could make sense, but U.S. military re-involvement does not. At this point, mission creep is a major hazard for America to avoid.

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