As the Iraqi army evaporated, and insurgents took control of northern Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki requested emergency US air support. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war, rebuffing the country in its hour of need would be malpractice. Nature abhors a vacuum – Al Qaeda loves one. Already, insurgent leaders are talking of a march on Baghdad, a red line that could trigger Iranian intervention. Welcome to “Syria 2.0”. This is not the first time Mosul fell. In 2004, insurgents and Al Qaeda took the city, but US forces recaptured it. If equipped properly, loyal Iraqi units and the Kurds can do the same. The result will be messy, but the alternative would be worse. Too many British and US politicians see the Iraq war as original sin, and counsel walking away. Neither the Iraqis nor the West have that luxury. Sometimes leadership means doing the unpalatable but necessary. Michael Rubin is author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, and is a former Pentagon official.
It’s questionable whether the West should intervene in Iraq. Since 2003, Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian cleavages have deepened. Following the withdrawal of US forces at the end of 2011, the Iraqi political elites have shown themselves to be unwilling to find a common position shared by all Iraqis, and have instead pursued sectarian and ethnic agendas. This is particularly the case with regard to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, but also to other leaders, whether Sunni or Kurdish. Iraq is a state in theory, but not in practice: a hypothetical singular nation populated by many nations, communities, sects, and groupings. It would not be possible to intervene and return Iraq to the status quo ante; rather, intervention would have to be in the form of embracing the Balkanization of the country, a task which is currently far beyond the capabilities and aspirations of any Western power. Gareth Stansfield is director of Middle East studies at the Royal United Services Institute and Al-Qasimi professor of Gulf studies at the University of Exeter.