Editorial: A disintegrating Iraq?

If Americans haven’t been giving much thought to Iraq recently, we can understand it.

After eight years of fighting, close to 5,000 U.S. and coalition personnel dead, more than 30,000 wounded, tens of thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded, and millions upon millions of dollars spent, the nation was more than ready for our military involvement there to be over when the U.S. declared the war formally over about three years ago.

No matter how Americans viewed these years of war — whether as the necessary intervention to free Iraqis from the tyrannical yoke of Saddam Hussein or a dirty excuse to gain control over oil resources — the public wanted to see Iraq find its footing, allowing it to find peace, and then get out.

A nation at peace with itself, however, hasn’t been the story that Iraq has been writing since our departure. Instead of coming together under the blueprint devised by the U.S., the nation continues to roil with internal strife. Sectarian violence continues to plague the country with about 8,000 Iraqis killed in 2013. Iraq’s government, under Nouri al-Maliki has promoted Shia interests while forcing out the Sunnis and Kurds ... a recipe for disaster.

Under any circumstance, Iraq’s internal problems would be bad enough. This instability within its borders, however, has provided an opportunity for dark forces from outside to interject theselves. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a militant movement that was once aligned with al-Qaida, has been expanding its reach from the civil war in Syria into Iraq.

Some six months ago, these jihadists took control of the city of Fallujah — the scene of some of the most bitter fighting of the war — and were able to withstand attempts by Iraqi forces to dislodge them. This week, this bunch of militant Islamists from a variety of backgrounds, which now sees al-Qaida as too moderate, has overrun Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has a foothold in Tikrit and is moving toward Baghdad.

Unless the different Iraqi factions find a way to join forces and oust ISIL, Iraq could find itself falling deeper into civil war and become the focal point for violent attacks on other countries in the region — or a training ground for terrorists.

Even when kept at a distance, what is happening in Iraq is not good news for the U.S.

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