Iraq Falls Apart

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Iraqi Kurdish security guard (Peshmerger) stands guard as Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province gather at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 kms West of Arbil. (Safin Hamed/Getty)

Islamic militants -- some with reported ties to Al Qaeda -- have taken over Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and are making gains in other areas of the north. Ben Van Heuvelen, managing editor of the Iraq Oil Report and contributor to the Washington Post, discusses the roots of the strife and what it means for the country and the region. 


Ben Van Heuvelen

Comments [39]

Laila from New York

Laura from Midland said it elegantly and best. Airstrikes kill human beings, innocent human beings and the result has always made things worse, bringing more havoc and more resentment. And Taher from Croton also rightly points out to Mr. Lehrer (who knows better) that this has nothing to do with theology, just as the Palestine/Israel conflict has nothing to do with religion although it may be used as a pretext. In the case of Palestine, it has to do with one people being subjugated in their own land by a foreign entity. With all the injustices and conflicts heaped upon the area, why is anyone surprised at the rise of this ISIS group? The problem goes back a long way when the Western powers divided up the Middle East and favored one minority over another. But in the more recent past,it goes back to the American invasion and destruction of Iraq,and the conscious division of the various groups in Iraq, which had lived together in relative harmony for thousands of years. All of a sudden, the US had "nothing to do with it"? Will we ever learn?

Aug. 08 2014 01:14 PM
Chris from New York

It's time to back the Kurds. They are mostly secular, reasonable and humanitarians who have taken in vast numbers of refugees.

They have 4 mm barrels of oil in tankers in the Mediterranean waiting for a buyer. Buy the oil, recognize Kurdistan as an independent country and send in the Marines and Rangers to defend the borders if things get bad.

Much of this conflict is from the artificial borders drawn by the British. Let the Shias keep Baghdad and the south, the Kurds have their own territory with the Kurdish parts of Syria, and the Sunnis have their landlocked parts of Anbar province and Syria.

It would dramatically reduce the sectarian strife.

Jun. 13 2014 11:13 AM
Brendan from Upper West Side

Brian, I noticed you scoffed at the guy who called in and suggested that we encourage hemp production/cultivation/whatever. And while that may be a somewhat ridiculous solution, you were discussing AIR STRIKES and your guest was the managing editor of the IRAQ OIL REPORT. Guess what: hemp-head was not the one pitching a curve ball.

Jun. 12 2014 04:50 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

160,000+ dead in Syria. That's Arabs killing Arabs - and the UN and the usual FAKE anti-war activists are silent as when KGB Putin invaded and annexed the Crimea.

The Middle East is a cauldron of hate of EVERYBODY.

Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on the planet - and they only just recently began to experiment with Democracy - and failed.

The Arab middle east is not fertile ground for peace, tolerance, respect for minorities, respect for women, respect for education for all, respect for children.

Jun. 12 2014 02:54 PM


952 days and 23 hours and 33 minutes

(LOL, but Susan Rice will note that Obama served the country with "honor and distinction" ... just like Bergdahl .. and with the same love of his country.)

Jun. 12 2014 01:28 PM
Ed from Larchmont

This is a very dangerous group, and their motive is indeed religion. We see how dangerous incorrect religious ideas are. And we see what the countries of Europe and the Church faced from 700-1500 and why the Crusades were called, and what they faced. Al Queda used ISIS as the spear point in some of their attacks, they are so brutal.
(In the West we have adopted some very immoral practices, I can't help but think - abortion specifically - that God is raising up an army against us, for our own reformation. But this does not mean at all that they are holy, they seem to be the agents of evil indeed.)

Jun. 12 2014 01:01 PM
Ed from Larchmont

ISIS I've been told asked to work with Al Queda, but the latter refused partly because ISIS was too brutal. (!)
ISIS regards Shiites and Sunnis (sp?) as heretics, and is only concerned with infidels later.
The Kurds have too strong an army for ISIS to attack Kurdistan.
They want to (and now have established) an area where they rule, a caliphate.
(from the BBC report.)
Brian Lehrer kind of dismisses 'religious disagreements' but for most people religion, or their view of the reality, is the center of who they are (not the Marxist view that it's an add-on, superficial). So when they disagree, there is conflict.

Jun. 12 2014 12:55 PM

We installed Shia/Kurd government hell bent on exacting revenge on the Sunnis. Which is what happened. When Sunnis resist this oppression ,we label them alquada terrorists. Same in Syria. Now anyone who opposes oppressive regimes whether Iranian/US backed[Iraq] or Russian/Iranian backed[Syria] we label alquada. They are jijadists not because they are fundamentalists necessarily, though some are but because they are resisting or defending themselves from oppressive regimes. We are on the wrong side of human rights.
This is fall out of the cold war[remember how we said we won that war without a shot being fired, well the fallout is taking place in the mid east] where either we or USSR supported supported brutal regimes tied to our interests. And it is fall out of the Iraqi invasion where we built a colossal embassy with visions of having a new military base from which to control the mid east and the world. Because after those uppity Arabians attacked us and we removed out military base in Arabia we wanted a secure preferably secular place to replace Arabia as it looked like those fundamentalists native were restless and might topple the Saudi regime[the oft repeated meme; the 9-11 hijackers were from Arabia mostly and fundamentalists, [though that is not true. Iraq looked ideal as it is secular; no complaints if our soldiers want whore houses and bars near the bases, as those Arabians had the nerve to insist had to be prohibited since it violated their fundamentalists beliefs] and it has oil. But because they are men and women ,not mice the Iraqis resisted our shock and awe and would not agree to the demand that a US soldier cannot be tried by Iraqis if they commit a crime against an Iraqi . The whole thing backfired showing that it is not easy to control the world and its people in the 21st century.
I Hope thy make it to Baghdad and fly their resistance flag on that colossal embassy for no other reason then just to show the US, how futile the unjust, deceitful invasion of Iraq was! That we now side with an oppressive Stalinist ,Russian backed dictators like Assad who is committing a holocaust against Sunnis is shameful.We wanted to liberate Iraqis we said, but when the Syrians WANT to be liberated we side with the mass murdering dictator backed by Iran and Russia, showing our intent towards Sunnis was malicious all along. As was installing a Shia/Kurd government knowing they would persecute the Sunnis!

Jun. 12 2014 12:09 PM
laura miller from north bergen, nj

Respectfully, I wish you'd do a more nuanced profile of ISIS than simplifiers like "radical Islam" and invoking theology. If they purport to organize a caliphate, or want to replace existing legal structures with a new one, why? What is it about existing and recent states throughout the region that make so many people so radically dissatisfied, and willing to use violence to implement what they regard (rightly or wrongly) as a more equal, just, respectful social order? I am reading Akbar Ahmed's "The Thistle and the Drone"--a useful starting point for rethinking the social breakdown across a large swathe of the globe ("Islamic" and otherwise), which has been building for a long time and to which our "war on terror," combatting "radical Islamists," sadly, blindly, ahistorically, too often exacerbates. That we are down to whether to defend the corrupt, partisan Maliki regime or not shows just how short-term and misguided our ME policy has long been.

Jun. 12 2014 12:02 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

@ rhys whitfield longfellow from Brooklyn,
yes, they are all going to be in. Including Israel and Turkey and Iran. ISIS is politics that is not manageable.

Jun. 12 2014 11:43 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes. The false borders creating chaos all over the Middle East and the Motherland...You may like your neighbor and all, but how would YOU like it if someone came along, merged your apartments and FORCED you to become a family?

Jun. 12 2014 11:41 AM
Soldier's Father from Westchester

@ Jose D.: President Obama did not "decide to cut and leave". The Iraqi leadership refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay legally. These are the same Iraqi leadership people who are now crying for help.

Jun. 12 2014 11:39 AM
Amy from Manhattan

On the idea that a conflict can't be won w/air strikes alone, if the US carries out air strikes & nothing else, that would be to supplement the Iraqi military's actions, so the air strikes wouldn't be the only thing happening.

Jun. 12 2014 11:38 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

ISIS would create a terrorist Sunni Arab caliphate and that would force Iran to react militarily. Definitely the Kurds would use the tumult to create a defacto independent state, albeit not one that would be recognized by the UN. I hope they succeed. A Kurdish state would be a great friend both to the US and Israel. I don't how Iran would feel about it.

Jun. 12 2014 11:37 AM
Bob from Huntington

Way back when he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Bush was preparing to invade Iraq,
Joe Biden said that the inevitable result in time would be a dissolution of the country into three segments: a Sunni segment, a Shia segment, and the Kurds would absorb the north. He was right. Yes, Joe Biden.

Jun. 12 2014 11:37 AM
rhys whitfield longfellow from Brooklyn

Where is Moktada al Sadr? Where is the Iranian Revolutionay Guard? Why isn't Maliki pleading for help from his Iranian patrons?

Why isnt usa media coverage informing us that it's the Bath Party insurgency redux that has taken over Tikrit alongside ISIS?

Iow, thia is an opportunistic insurrection by hardore Hussein era Bathists seizing the reins of an opportunity to overthrow Maliki once and for all.

Jun. 12 2014 11:35 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

This guest has limited knowledge of Middle Eastern culuters.

Jun. 12 2014 11:34 AM
Chad from nyc

the main powerbroker: Please ask about Iran and Iran's role! ! ! ! !

Jun. 12 2014 11:34 AM

Actually, this problem is really quite simple to solve. The solution has been right under our noses the whole time. THe answer is

Jun. 12 2014 11:34 AM

this guy just managed to invoke 911...GONG
The issue better be the President CAN'T launch any attacks with out congressional approval.

Jun. 12 2014 11:34 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

I am amazed by this stereotype notion that the Middle is all about relgion. Total ignorance.

Jun. 12 2014 11:33 AM

They couldn't choose a different name like Pussy Galore or Odd Job?

Jun. 12 2014 11:32 AM
Laura from Midland

amazing the cavalier way "air strikes" is tossed around as if it were a solution, and not part of the problems

Jun. 12 2014 11:31 AM

Is the nuclear option off the table…??

Jun. 12 2014 11:30 AM
Chad Kia

please ask about the role of Iran ! ! !!

Jun. 12 2014 11:30 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Brian this is not a war of theology. It is a political with a cover of relgious ideology to attract disenfranchised recruits from Iraq/Syria.

Jun. 12 2014 11:29 AM


Jun. 12 2014 11:29 AM
Jose D from Bronx

There should be a you break it you buy it rule. If we have to go in again, the country should become a commonwealth territory of the united states, and no less. We should not lose your kids for any other reason. The way we went in was a shame. Even the first President Bush saw that we should not upset that apple cart. The way we exited was a shame. There was no agreement for residual forces as a deterrent to what we are seeing when the President Obama decided to cut and leave, we just left and hoped for the best.

Jun. 12 2014 11:28 AM
steve from Manhattan

BRILLIANT -- let's arm our next mortal enemies. Our history throughout the Middle East has us arming our next enemies time after time, and apparently we never learn from our mistakes. Not even the Iraqi military abandoning their posts and weapons is enough to deter us from sending arms that undoubtedly will end up in ISIS hands, to be used against us in time…

Jun. 12 2014 11:25 AM
Rick from Connecticut Coast

SULEIMAN The great installed the Sunnis as rulers in Bagdad in 1536 and our invasion upset the 400 year apple cart, why are we surprised at this revolt?

Jun. 12 2014 11:20 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

@jgarbuz from Queens
Remember during the Iran-Iraq war, Israel was sending massive military support to the Iranians.

Jun. 12 2014 11:20 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Taher

I agree. I believe that assuming the Supreme Haman of Iran Khameini does not build the bomb and thereby precipitate war between Israel and Iran, that in the end they may unofficially cooperate to stabilize the region from the far-ranging fanatical Arab terrorists. They are the only two regional powers capable of bringing some stability to the Middle East if they cooperate, if even just unofficially. The jihadism is bringing no good to the region.

Jun. 12 2014 11:12 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To John

>How exactly does an Islamic state work??<

It doesn't. Like all totalitarian systems, it constantly must expand to conquer and loot. Only free enterprise societies that allow for individual freedom can prosper without resorting to slavery or imperialism.

Jun. 12 2014 11:06 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Israel has been arming and giving military aide to the Kurds of northern Iraq. ISIS is threatening all of Iraq and the Shia south that in turn threatens Iran. With that said the possibility of Iran-Israel cooperation on dealing with ISIS becomes more likely. Since the US will not and can not get directly involved.

Jun. 12 2014 11:04 AM
Bob from Westchester

@ SKV: Not for nothin, but the Middle East is part of Asia -- so Vizzini (quoting Gen. MacArthur, who had already made this classic mistake) already has it covered.

Jun. 12 2014 11:00 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Neocons blaming Obama for this in 3, 2, 1 ...

Jun. 12 2014 10:36 AM
john from office.

The dis-banding of the Army and the Bath party was a major error. We should have named a new dictator and left.

How exactly does an Islamic state work?? Without education, science and industry. Will all spring forth from the Koran?? Seems like the only solution is to make sure these guys are dead, you can not reform a fanatic.

Jun. 12 2014 10:34 AM

As Vizzini says in The Princess Bride, the first classic blunder is "never get involved in a land war in Asia."

Perhaps the next should be, never get involved in a land war in the Middle East.

Jun. 12 2014 10:18 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Wasn't Iraq, the former, part axis of evil, supposed to have been this stunning example of democracy and forward thinking in the middle east by now? So said the neo-cons under Bush?

Maliki has been a complete disaster. He wanted America gone - now he's begging for US air-strikes, as his corrupt, sectarian government is collapsing all around him. He will get his wish, as the oil must keep flowing.

The Taliban are licking their lips. The same thing is probably going to happen in Afghanistan, once western troops are gone.

Jun. 12 2014 09:43 AM

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