During his time as a military advisor in Iraq, Pregent observed the dynamic by which Iran achieved effective control over much of Iraq’s government.
Nonetheless, General David Petraeus had some success in reaching a balance between Sunni and Shia when he was head of Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I). When he left in 2005, he left behind Iraqi army divisions in and around Baghdad that had a 55-45 percent ratio of Shia to Sunni.
Before Petraeus took command of MNF-I in 2007, I had the opportunity to brief him on the changing sectarian make-up of the ISF under his predecessor—General Martin Dempsey. The divisions in and around Baghdad were now over 90 percent Shia and mostly militia-affiliated. Petraeus was shocked.
This shift in the sectarian makeup of the security forces was the result of a 2006-2007 purge of Sunni commanders, leaving a sectarian military force that saw few distinctions between any Sunni man of military age and the Sunni insurgency. Extra-judicial killings in Baghdad skyrocketed, with somewhere between 25-50 percent of prisoners being summarily executed, and bound Sunni men dumped around Baghdad in an attempt to terrify Sunnis out of supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its affiliates.
General Dempsey was in charge while this process was taking place. Asked about it by advisors and analysts, Dempsey replied, “I make no distinction between Shia and Sunnis. I only see them as Iraqis.” This was a noble position to take, and would have been correct if the rule of law had been in place and militia membership seen as a disqualification for service. But there was no rule of law, and the Sunnis did not share Dempsey’s views. This misunderstanding came at a high price. The purged and executed Sunni officers were the exact Iraqis we needed—those who were willing to fight both AQI and Shia militias at great personal risk. Now, they were targeted and killed by both of them.
Pregent’s experiences have prompted him to look beyond just Iraq or the nuclear negotiations:
Having witnessed this jarring turn of events, it is important to point out that this is not simply an Iraqi issue. It is a regional issue. The Iranian government believes that the U.S. wants a nuclear deal so badly that it will tacitly approve Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East—including in Syria and Yemen—by downplaying Iranian influence or ignoring it altogether. At the same time, Iraqi politicians cite the slow pace of America’s “strategic patience” as a reason to welcome Iranian support. But support comes with a price, and it is a price that will be paid not only by Iraq, but also the U.S. itself.
In a related article for The Daily Beast, co-written with Michael Weiss, Pregent argued that Iran’s influence in Iraq was making it “impossible” for the United States to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria effectively.
The Detroit News
The Washington Post, in an editorial, summed up the major red flags this way:
■The initial goal of dismantling Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon has given way to acceptance of Iran’s capabilities, which the White House now hopes can be restricted.
■The Obama administration has acquiesced to Iran’s desires to increase its influence in the region.
■The president is planning to implement any deal it makes with Iran unilaterally, without seeking congressional approval.
Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz are warning the administration is giving away too much, and seems outmatched at the negotiating table.
Kissinger rightly warns that a deal that leaves open a path for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon risks triggering the start of an arms race in the region, with other countries rushing to obtain their own bombs.
The administration has taken the unusual step of cutting off Israel from the flow of information about how the talks are coming together. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak to Congress about the negotiations next month, is warning that the deal leaves Iran with too much bomb-making capacity.
The administration appears ready to allow most of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to remain intact. Rather than extending the distance between Iran and a nuclear weapon, the deal would keep the Iranians within a year to 15 months from being able to produce a bomb.
The White House also seems convinced that reaching a nuclear deal will pave the way for a new relationship in which the United States would partner with Iran in combatting the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
That’s wishful thinking. Though driven by different ideologies, Iran and the Islamic State share the similar goal of pushing western influence out of the Middle East. That includes the destruction of Israel.
Allowing Iran, which has been a major financier of terrorist groups, to play a larger role in the region risks destabilizing other nations, including Saudi Arabia, an important ally of the United States.
The stakes in these negotiations are high — too high for this president or any other to act unilaterally. Bypassing Congress to sign a nuclear deal — or to end the sanctions that Congress voted to approve — is unprecedented.
Obama should step back from the table, listen to the advice of seasoned counselors, and respect Congress’ constitutional role in this process.
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
FEBRUARY 27, 2015
North Korea could be on track to have an arsenal of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020, according to a new research report. The prediction, from experts on North Korea, goes well beyond past estimates and should force renewed attention on a threat that has been eclipsed by other crises.
At the moment, the United States and five other major powers are negotiating an agreement that would constrain the nuclear program in Iran, which does not possess any nuclear weapons. North Korea, on the other hand, is estimated to have already produced 10 to 16 weapons since 2003.
The new assessment comes from Joel Wit, a former American negotiator with North Korea who is now a senior fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security. They conclude that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been growing since 2009 and are now “poised for significant expansion over the next five years.” That poses serious threats for other countries in Asia and for the United States.