The Sunni-Shia rift fueled everything that happened in Iraq, and is happening now. The U.S. never had a long game for this, but never stopped meddling in the short-term. The Surge was one example. The U.S. bought off the Sunni bulk with actual cash “salaries” to their fighters (the U.S. first called them the Orwellian “Concerned Local Citizens” and then switched to “Sons of Iraq,” which sounded like an old Bob Hope road movie title). The U.S. then also used Special Forces to assassinate Sunni internal enemies–a favored sheik need only point at a rival, label him al-Qaeda, and the night raids happened. A lull in the killing did occur as a result of the Surge, but was only sustained as long as U.S. money flowed in. As the pay-off program was “transitioned” to the majority Shia central government, it quickly fell apart.
The Shias got their part of the deal when, in 2010, in a rush to conclude a Prime Ministerial election that would open the door to a U.S. excuse to pack up and leave Iraq, America allowed the Iranians to broker a deal where we failed. The Sunnis were marginalized, a Shia government was falsely legitimized and set about pushing aside the Sunni minority from the political process. Iranian influence increased, the U.S. claimed victory and then scooted our military home. Everything since then between the U.S. and Iraq–pretending Maliki was a legitimate leader, the billions in aid, the military and police training, the World’s Largest Embassy–has been pantomime.
—Peter Van Buren, a career diplomat, spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams. He is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. The above is excerpted from Whither Iraq? What’s Happening Had to Happen.