During the last iteration of civil strife in Iraq, security was restored not only due to a surge in American forces from 2007-08, but also the Anbar Awakening. Following the initial invasion of Iraq, a political vacuum emerged that coalition forces were unable to fill. The result was Al-Qaeda flowing into the country, quickly establishing links with Sunni tribes. However, in 2005, the Sons of Iraq formed as a counter movement to Al-Qaeda and Sunni militias that were fighting against America and the nascent Iraqi government. Within a year, the Sons of Iraq was a nation-wide movement. As violence steadily increased throughout 2006, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi established the Anbar Awakening Council to unite Sunni tribes against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. This was ultimately integral in ending the civil war in Iraq. Following our withdraw from Iraq in 2011, the Sons of Iraq were slowly disbanded. While this was a sensible move, because no country should have two religiously distinct armies, Maliki failed to provide ample job opportunities for returning members. As a result, many former members were left unemployed by 2013. Furthermore, his increasingly sectarian policies served to ostracize the Sunni community. After America withdrew, there was a purge of Sunni officers among the upper echelons of Iraq's military command structure. Many Sunnis not only feel as if the Army's composition does not adequately reflect their demographic, but also that Maliki was persistently using their sect as a scapegoat.
A synthesis of unemployment and marginalization provided the perfect pool for recruitment by ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in Syria. As a result, by early 2014, ISIS managed to seize Fallujah and Ramadi. Maliki's lethargic military response, inability to protect Sunni populations from abuse, and belligerent sectarian remarks only served to worsen the situation. Sunnis increasingly viewed the Iraqi government as a hateful, inept entity. As VICE News reported, many citizens in captured cities feel safe under ISIS, which they could not say when the military handled the security situation. While we may not like Al-Qaeda, their affiliates, or their breakaways, we should sympathize with the yearning many Sunnis have to live peaceful, safe lives--even if that's under a Wahabbist terrorist group they don't particularly agree with.
Now, Iraq's government is coordinating with an unpopular Shiite regime to kill Sunnis. Instead of decrying Syria's actions against Iraqi citizens, it appears as if Maliki was complicit in their attack. This will only further reinforce present resentment in Sunni populations, making a fruitful counter-insurgency strategy even more difficult to implement. Without a wide attempt at reapprochement between the Iraqi government and Sunni tribes, combating the insurgency will be unnecessarily long, casualty-intensive, and destabilizing for the entire region. Further worries stem from Baghdad's ties with Tehran. Several articles have surfaced alleging that Iran has deployed 500 members of the elite Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' commanding officer to assist Iraq in its defense of Baghdad. Not does this supplement Maliki's blatant sectarian policies, but it also allows Iran far more influence in the Middle East. Maliki's actions signify a realignment that leaves Iraq even closer to Iran's political clout.
But Iraq is not the only actor that can be blamed, America's dithering policy in Syria ultimately allowed for Jihadist organizations like ISIS to become so large and well-equipped. If America had initially worked more closely with the Free Syrian Army, then perhaps the situation in both Iraq and Syria would be different. Now, it appears as if we've passed the golden opportunity to fund religiously moderate Syrian groups, and we're certainly reaping the consequences of that failure. If we intend on ensuring that the epicenter of the world's energy market remains somewhat stable, then it is necessary that we increase our involvement with Syria's opposition. For his part, it seems as if Obama has begun to do just that by proposing 500 million dollars in aid to Syrian rebels. However, without Iraq agreeing to domestic policy reforms, it appears as if a great deal of developments in both Syria and Iraq will happen outside of our control.