Retired U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Nash says Iraq is simply turning into “a big mess” and predicts a civil war between radical Sunni and Shia will be very bad news for the U.S. no matter who wins, so the best-case scenario is for the two sides to kill as many of the other as possible.
The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, as forces calling themselves the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) advance toward Baghdad while Iran takes more concrete steps to enter into the fray to bolster its allies in the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki and the government itself prepares to take a stand in the Shia-dominated areas.
Nash says the coming clash is obvious, but the end result is not.
“Essentially, Iraq is turning into a religious civil war,” said Nash, noting that Sunni and Shia hatred for each other is nothing new given centuries of dispute over who should have been the rightful heir to Mohammed.
“It’s a civil war in that you can’t clearly say all the Sunni are fighting on this side or all of the Shia are fighting on this side. They’re not. The Iranians had previously funded ISIS when they were fighting in Syria and even before that when they were Al Qaeda in Iraq and they were fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. So the lines are very blurred. It’s just a big mess,” said Nash.
Not only are the lines blurred, Nash says there’s a good chance this fight will go on a long time and the considerations are far more complicated than most people realize.
“I think what we’re going to see is a stalemate. We’re going to have the Sunni north and west of Baghdad and toward the Syrian border. You’re going to have the two-thirds Shia population, Baghdad and south toward Basra, and then you’re going to have the Kurdish north. When that happens, that will start the next round of Middle East conflict,” said Nash.
“The Turks and the Iranians will not be happy with an independent Kurdistan. The Syrians are not going to be happy with the Sunni to their east,” Nash said, adding that every possible outcome is bad news so the U.S. should feel no compunction to get involved or even see the conflict end anytime soon.
“Quite frankly, I’d be happy if they just all killed each other,” said Nash, noting how the current Shia regime in Baghdad squandered a golden opportunity for stability by exacting revenge on the Sunni in response for Saddam Hussein’s brutal treatment of the Shia during his reign.
ISIS brings certain advantages to the fight as well as major liabilities. According to Nash, ISIS is much better funded and organized then most terrorist organizations.
“Instead of being your run of the mill, barbaric terrorist army, these guys have a very, very sophisticated fundraising and criminal enterprise that has brought them tens of millions of dollars. They are not state supported per se, as the intelligence community originally thought, but in fact have been raising money through a vast criminal enterprise,” said Nash, citing one example as ISIS commandeering Syrian oil fields and then selling that oil back to the Syrian government at a significant profit.
Nash says the problem for ISIS is the same problem that doomed Al Qaeda in Iraq, namely that fellow Sunni quickly tired of their extremist tendencies and stopped cooperating with them once the immediate threat was past.
“They only have a limited amount of time to really entrench themselves in the Sunni population. The Sunnis do not want to live under such a brutal, barbaric government as ISIS would bring forth,” he said.
Many conservatives assailed President Obama for having a leisurely weekend in California while Iraq is in chaos. Nash says Obama’s actions over the past 48 hours are not the problem. Instead, he says the U.S. habit of ignoring Iraq in recent years is catching up with us and no good options remain.
“Because of all the inactivity and the mismanagement for the last eight years, there’s not much you can do now. It’s like personal choices in your life. If you decide to drink two bottles of scotch and smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and you do that for eight years and then start to notice the effect that it’s having on your body, going to a doctor and saying I’m ready to do something about this, it just may be too late,” said Nash.