Michael Weiss writes: The American military official best acquainted with the social fabric of northern and central Iraq says that the disintegration of the country was entirely preventable. Col. Rick Welch spent just under seven years in Iraq and served as Gen. David Petraeus’s chief liaison to the Sunni tribes of Fallujah and Ramadi and to various Shia tribal militia groups, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s now-reconstituted Mahdi Army.
Welch was integral to the so-called “Anbar Awakening,” which turned a lot of former insurgents – or insurgency sympathizers – into US allies against Al-Qaeda. Since retiring from the army, he has resumed his law practice in Ohio but has kept up with these hard-won friends, who have painted a dire picture of what life is like under the Nouri al-Maliki government. If the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the former Ba’athists of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order have managed to plow through Anbar Province with such ease, Welch argues, it is because the Sunnis of Iraq felt they had no recourse but to align with such elements.
“Maliki, in my opinion, is just as much an enemy to democracy in Iraq as ISIS is,” Welch told me last week in a wide-ranging interview. “He pushed them so far that they had to rise up. They tried to get reforms, but they couldn’t get them. There were dragnet arrests; Sunni women were thrown in prison to get to the men. Tribal honor was on the line and revenge thinking was on the line. Maliki made this crisis.” And it was abetted, the colonel says, by US obliviousness of or indifference to what was a noticeable degeneration in Baghdad even before the American troop withdrawal in 2011. [Continue reading…]