Iraq’s descent into chaos affirms two things: It was a mistake for the United States to invade that country in 2003, and Americans are lucky not to be in charge of what happens there next.
Deaths in Iraq’s sectarian conflict in April were the highest monthly total since June, 2008, when U.S. forces were nominally in control. The cause of the current conflict is the unwillingness of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims, about 20 percent of the population, to accept Shiite dominance under the virtual dictatorship of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq’s Kurds are operating as a virtually independent entity, in economic and political terms.
The Sunnis ruled a unified Iraq from its independence in 1932 until the U.S. invasion in 2003, in later years under President Saddam Hussein. The Sunnis initially resisted the Americans, then finally accepted being put on the U.S. payroll while they awaited our departure.
The Shiite majority gained power as part of an American attempt to introduce democracy in Iraq. But there was no reason to imagine that Sunnis would accept Shiite rule over them.
The civil war in Syria, which pits the government against a variety of Sunni militias, may have strengthened the hand of Sunni forces in Iraq. Both countries hosted ruling Baath parties, although they opposed each other for nationalistic and ideological reasons under Saddam and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.
The disorder in one country tends to spill over into the other, because arms are freely available in the two conflicts.
The price for Americans in Iraq was high — more than 4,000 dead, and financial costs that will continue to be paid for decades. But the fate of Iraq is now in the hands of Iraqis, to do what they choose.