Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Yes, I am watching Mosul, but I finally am speechless about the events in Iraq

I am sitting here thinking that with the fall of Mosul, I feel like I should write something. But I also feel like: damn it, I have nothing more to say about it. This comes after about 12 years of writing about it constantly, first a couple of thousand news articles and then in two ...

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

I am sitting here thinking that with the fall of Mosul, I feel like I should write something. But I also feel like: damn it, I have nothing more to say about it. This comes after about 12 years of writing about it constantly, first a couple of thousand news articles and then in two books.

I don't feel grieved by this. More, I just feel numb. It reminds me of something that Jim Gourley once wrote, "Iraq has already given and taken from me everything it's going to."

I wonder if people who spent a lot of time in Iraq feel similarly. I suspect so, because my various networks of contacts have been pretty quiet about Iraq this week. My guess is that anyone watching Iraq closely began thinking that these events became inevitable once Maliki began attacking Sunni towns. As Andrew Exum commented last night, "you can buy host nation time and space for political reform and compromise, but ultimately it's their choice."

I am sitting here thinking that with the fall of Mosul, I feel like I should write something. But I also feel like: damn it, I have nothing more to say about it. This comes after about 12 years of writing about it constantly, first a couple of thousand news articles and then in two books.

I don’t feel grieved by this. More, I just feel numb. It reminds me of something that Jim Gourley once wrote, "Iraq has already given and taken from me everything it’s going to."

I wonder if people who spent a lot of time in Iraq feel similarly. I suspect so, because my various networks of contacts have been pretty quiet about Iraq this week. My guess is that anyone watching Iraq closely began thinking that these events became inevitable once Maliki began attacking Sunni towns. As Andrew Exum commented last night, "you can buy host nation time and space for political reform and compromise, but ultimately it’s their choice."

It boils down to this: The Shiites act like they are a majority in Iraq, or at least the single biggest group. The Sunnis act like they are a majority in the Arab world. Both are right. The question is: Which is more important inside Iraq? Unfortunately, the answer likely will come from Iran, in how it supports Maliki in the coming days. I don’t think the U.S. government will conduct air strikes. I don’t even know how it would be done — the big base at Balad will be a juicy target for ISIS, so you can’t use that. So B-1s out of Diego Garcia? Still hard to do and coordinate with someone on the ground.

My guess: We wind up with a de facto partition of Iraq — a Shiite south extending up to the east bank of the Tigris in Baghdad, a Sunni north and west that begins in the western side of Baghdad, and a Kurdish northeast. The Kurds have played this especially well, hanging back and letting Maliki screw up and also cutting a peace deal with the Turks so they can focus on Iraq.   

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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