America Can't Fix the Middle East, but It Can Fix Its Middle East Policy

The secret to getting it right in the world's most volatile region is admitting when you're wrong.

If there was a turning point in the presidency of George W. Bush, it came when he and his team finally accepted that their strategy in Iraq was not working and embraced the idea of the "surge." It prompted them to admit they were wrong and to adapt. This, as much as the strategy itself, was an important step forward, difficult politically, and the kind of adaptability required but not always seen in presidents. 

We are at a moment ripe for such a realization and a manifestation of flexibility for President Barack Obama. As it happens, it comes at almost precisely the same moment in his presidency as it did for President Bush and it has been triggered by similar events in the same country, by the same kind of people who forced the Bush team's course correction.

The events are not unrelated, of course. Reasonable analysts are pointing out that the roots of the instability that wracks Iraq today can be traced not only to the Bush-era invasion of Iraq but also to the only-temporary benefits won by the surge and the failure of both Bush and Obama to address the deep political flaws in the Iraqi system earlier.

But the current events in Iraq are not just a flashback. They are much more dangerous than the insurgency the Bush team eventually, and reluctantly, admitted had been gaining ground through 2005 and 2006. Because the militant extremists taking over multiple cities in Iraq represent a metastasizing of two once-distinct conflicts -- that in Syria and that in Iraq -- and an unprecedented threat to the entire region.

Last week in Abu Dhabi, Foreign Policy, in conjunction with the United States Institute of Peace, conducted the latest installment of our "PeaceGame" scenario programs. Conceived as "war games" about making peace, this installment, like our first event in December, was focused on Syria. The participants were senior government officials, diplomats, and experts from around the region and around the world. Unlike at our December event, however, we found we could no longer focus on Syria alone and that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had supplanted both Bashar al-Assad and al-Nusra Front terror group as the most frequently mentioned source of concern.

Further, while we identified some potentially valuable, if incremental, strategies for making much-needed progress on humanitarian issues, the group -- engaging in role-playing, simulating the positions of the most important international players in the conflict -- drove straight into a ditch on political issues. Little if any progress seemed possible in Syria, as all sides -- Assad and much of the fragmented opposition -- felt as though they were benefitting from the current chaos. Tellingly, the only area where real action seemed possible was in gaining international cooperation to help contain violent extremism.

In a matter of a few weeks, building on gains that began to snowball after their victories in Fallujah in January of this year, ISIS has galvanized the attention and concern of all with interests in the region. It is the one group that at least on the face of it unites the national security interests of a wide range of disparate players -- Iran, Assad, Maliki, the United States, Russia, Jordan, Israel, the EU, and Gulf countries. All are threatened in some way by ISIS -- its growth, its sophisticated organization, its boldness, and, perhaps especially, its ability -- through bank robberies, oil smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, and even taxation -- to become the world's best-financed terror group.

Recent battlefield successes that have helped ISIS capture tanks and missiles and weaponry suited to a modern army (much of it originally provided by the United States to Iraq precisely to protect the Iraqis from threats like the one they currently face) only compound the fact that this one-time al Qaeda franchisee is not your father's terrorist group. With over 10,000 fighters and serving as a magnet for extremists worldwide (in part due to remarkably slick -- not to mention chilling -- communications efforts worthy of any other recent, well-financed start-up), this is the group that ought to finally have the U.S. administration arguing that the greatest threat we face does not come from core al Qaeda.

There are signs that the U.S. administration recognizes this is a watershed. So far they have responded roughly as they should have: After a few half-hearted and unpersuasive efforts to suggest this was not our problem, the president ordered naval assets into the region, 300 military advisors into Iraq, and has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to help advance the kind of long-overdue political change in Iraq that is necessary to offer Sunnis a path to inclusion in their governance that the Maliki regime has systematically sought to deny them.

These are good first steps, although the resolve driving each effort as well as the overarching strategy guiding them have yet to be seen or tested. With reports Sunday of ISIS doing more to literally rewrite the borders of the Middle East by taking over official checkpoints between Iraq and Syria and Iraq and Jordan, the United States and our allies must first recognize that this is not about Fallujah or Mosul or whether or not ISIS will attack Baghdad (it would be unnecessarily risky and a diversion of assets, according to security specialists I spoke to in the region). It is about the possibility that ISIS will succeed in creating either an extremist state encompassing part of Syria or part of Iraq, and with broader designs that threaten, among others, America's vital and loyal ally, Jordan, with whom it would share a long border. Or, alternatively, whether endless inconclusive battles between ISIS and those attempting to push it back will lead to the creation of a Somalia-like lawless region in the Middle East -- a failed state that becomes a breeding ground for ills that will make the whole world suffer. (ISIS already controls or dominates territory exceeding the size of Jordan.)

Given the dimensions of the threat, the United States must actively work with whomever it can to contain and then defeat ISIS. It is not, by any means, primarily a problem for the United States and local leadership -- international collaboration is required. That's always a tall order. But it is one of those rare moments when such cooperation is possible, provided there is some flexibility about who does what. As the president and Secretary Kerry have rightly noted, this is an effort that will require political, diplomatic, military, and economic cooperation.

It is by no means a simple undertaking. For one thing, putting pressure on ISIS in Iraq could lead to just the latest illustration of the "squeezing the balloon" problem so often seen with terror groups. Tighten around them in Iraq and they may simply retreat again into Syria and wait out the current sense of urgency ... while letting events in Baghdad take their course as Maliki increasingly relies on Iran (which will be easier to deal with than the United States), while shrugging off U.S. pressure to give Sunnis a voice, and doesn't fix the political problems in his country, thus ensuring a permanent opening for Sunni champions including extremists like ISIS.

The United States, of course, has actively resisted getting involved in Syria. That has undeniably been a contributing factor to the rise of ISIS from gang of thugs to ascendant army over the past three years. In taking as long as we did to support better options like the Free Syrian Army, offering aid and not delivering it, the president resisting the good advice to be more aggressive that he got from team members like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we have managed to do the near impossible: helping the worst of both sides -- ISIS and the Nusra Front on the one hand, Assad on the other -- make material gains.

In fact, a cautionary factor in all this is that while it is nominally in the interest of all to stop ISIS (including bitter rivals al-Nusra Front), the rise of ISIS is paradoxically of use to some of these actors. Some of those in ISIS were, in fact, released from prison by Assad precisely because he felt it would be useful to have an enemy to battle. He has used the existence of such enemies brilliantly from a PR perspective, playing the "devil you know" strategy to perfection. He has grown stronger as they have grown stronger. This has served Iran, Assad's ally, as has the rise of ISIS in Iraq because it has enabled Maliki to turn to the Iranians for help in protecting Shiite shrines and even has the United States gently sniffing around the possibility of some kind of tacit, wink-wink, nod-nod collaboration with its onetime enemy in Tehran.

Indeed, not only does the rise of ISIS give the Iranians cover to be more explicit in their influence over Maliki and their efforts to control Shiite Iraq, it also helps advance their cautious, incremental not-quite-rapprochement with the United States. With the region in the worst chaos in its history and Obama's foreign-policy approval rating plummeting, they know he needs the Iran nuclear deal more than ever before. It's the only brass ring out there for him. And since he also needs them to help out with Iraq and with managing Assad, well, let's put it this way: They've got special leverage with the United States at the moment.

All this is to say that this situation is fraught with complexity. Do too little and we will soon be facing what is a genuine red line for the United States: Jordan. We could not sit by and let all or any of Jordan fall to extremists. It would be far too threatening to regional stability, to our moderate Arab allies, to Israel, and to an alliance we have cultivated and valued for decades. Be too fastidious about getting precisely the political progress we want in Iraq and we will be easily manipulated by Maliki and Iran into strengthening their partnership in ways that could lead to outcomes that might be acceptable for them -- like the partitioning of Iraq -- that might lead us to the ISIS-as-state or Mideast Somalia options that are so dangerous to us and to our allies in the region. Thus, we need to think a few moves ahead on this. Not all those who would work with us to help contain or defeat ISIS are actually our friends -- not by a long shot.

This is a moment to put some people in a room and think through strategy and alternative scenarios for this rapidly changing region and explore what the consequences of possible actions (or inaction) by the United States and our momentary and long-term allies might produce. Just as this is a situation that is a result of several of our prior moves (invading Iraq, not working harder to keep a residual force in place in Iraq, not doing more to support the more moderate members of the Syrian opposition earlier) plus a plethora of trends and events beyond our control, so too will the future be impacted by what we decide to do here, how it turns out, and then a host of other actions by actors with divergent goals. The great lesson of the recent past of ISIS is that the cost of not dealing with the problem goes up with each passing day. But the cost of not thinking through what happens next (see Libya) is also too high to bear.

Ironically, the Obama administration has fallen into the same trap that the Bush team did midway through their time in office: They thought they could just declare victory and head home. As insurgents made gains, Bush had the courage to acknowledge that he needed to change strategy, tactics, and personnel. In 2005-2006, Bush moved his National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to the State Department and her deputy, Steve Hadley, to National Security Advisor, and improved the performance of both and their teams. He later replaced Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and dialed back the role of his vice president throughout. Bush also took a more hands-on role in dealing with the problem, engaging in weekly videoconferences with Iraq, going to meet with the chiefs in the Pentagon to discuss strategy, moving toward the problems he was having rather than denying them or moving away from them. The surge, of only temporary benefit, was just one of the benefits of this change of team and of attitude. During the last several years in office, Bush's national security team achieved a great deal, from Africa to the emerging world to beginning to restore relationships damaged during the first term. It's hard for political opponents of Bush to hear that. But it's a fact and in my recent work on a book that is a history of national security decision-making during the past decade, I've found it is one accepted by policy professionals from both parties.

Thus far, Obama has proven more reluctant to admit errors and adapt.

While Obama's team has had changes, its performance as a team has actually gotten worse. The past year -- from indecision over Egypt to the Syria fiasco last fall, from mishandling the NSA fiasco to the Bergdahl mess to rapidly disintegrating situations in Syria, Iraq, and Libya -- has been among the misstep-prone in recent national security management history -- perhaps the worst since the wrong decision to go into Iraq in the first place. It has been a dog's breakfast of indecision, lack of coordination, interagency sniping, bad press messaging, incrementalism, and failure to take responsibility. Sometimes you can be so afraid to do stupid shit, you make a mess anyway. 

To revert to caricatures: Bush -- famously unstudious -- learned from his experience. Obama -- famously the brilliant professor -- now has the opportunity to show that the smartest kid in the class can learn from the inarticulate frat boy he denigrated. That will, however, require not only the courage to admit a change is needed, it will require the guts to deal with a complex situation in which there is no easy way in or out.

Foreign policy is sometimes messy and action is sometimes required even when perfect outcomes are not apparent. This is one of those times. We should push for political change in Iraq but we also must prepare and accept the reality that we should use air power and intelligence to help push them back ... and we must accept that reality in both Iraq and Syria. It is now time to accelerate aid for the Free Syrian Army and humanitarian assistance because it wins hearts and minds and it is the right thing to do in the face of the catastrophe Syrians and their neighbors face. It is time to identify and work with new Sunni leaders in Iraq and in Syria, likely a task in which we support our regional allies' efforts on the ground. We should make it clear that we will not tolerate the violation of Jordanian sovereignty ... and mean it this time. We should squeeze by every means possible the sources of support ISIS has, whether from oil smuggling or from individuals in countries that are supposed to be our allies. We should work with our allies in the region to develop a long-term vision for a stabilized region -- not some fantasy of Jeffersonian democracy but something that will contain the disasters that are daily befalling the Middle East. This is a partial list. Disagree with some or several of the points. But acknowledge that it is a time for action, strategy, and collaboration in equal proportions ... and all in greater proportions than we have done thus far. It is time to acknowledge that what we have been doing -- and what we have not been doing -- is not working.

Win McNamee/Getty Images


Trust Iran Only as Far as You Can Throw It

American talking heads say that Iran is the key to defeating ISIS. But those in the know say the two "enemies" are actually secret allies.

"There has never been any doubt in my mind that elements within Iran's security services have facilitated ISIS," Col. Derek Harvey told Foreign Policy, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a terrorist network-cum-jihadist army that has now taken over territory in Syria and Iraq that, when combined, is roughly the size of Jordan. "When given opportunities to interdict, or have an effect, [the Iranians] have refrained." 


  • Trita Parsi: Washington may not want to admit it, but Iran is the most stable country in the Middle East right now.

Harvey, a retired Army intelligence officer and senior Central Command advisor, was emphatic that any solution for containing the rising threat of ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, must foreclose on the possibility of U.S.-Iranian collusion. His comments were echoed by two other high-ranking U.S. military officials who served extensively in the Iraq theater in the last decade and believe that Iran was the principal spoiler for American-led reconstruction efforts after the fall of Saddam Hussein. 

These reminders from Iraq war veterans come at a time when debate rages in the U.S. policy establishment and commentariat over whether or not the Obama administration should adopt an "enemy of my enemy" logic in Iraq and work with Washington's 30-year foe in Tehran.

Secretary of State John Kerry floated this idea in an interview on June 16 with Katie Couric, saying, "We're open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform." President Barack Obama, in remarks delivered on June 19, seemed to rule out a direct military coordination with the Islamic Republic but nevertheless struck a similar chord of possible future cooperation. "Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we're sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it's inclusive," the commander-in-chief said, before adding that Iran's "hot and heavy" military support for the Assad regime has gravely worsened conditions in Syria -- implying that what is transpiring in Iraq now is spillover from that conflict next door.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also seemed amenable to an entente cordiale with the Great Satan. In a televised address on Iranian state media broadcast on June 14, he appeared to invite U.S. military intervention in Iraq to stem the ISIS assault and presented (not for the first time) Iran as a partner in what was once known as the global war on terror: "We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups."

Yet American veterans of the decade-long Iraq war and occupation say that the idea is both preposterous and dangerous. Iran, they maintain, has long played a double game in Mesopotamia and the Levant, both enabling Sunni extremists to infiltrate countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and then swooping in as the only safeguard heralded against the very forces they helped unleash.

Another high-ranking retired U.S. military official, who asked not to be identified by name, told FP: "Ansar al-Islam, the people who eventually became al Qaeda in Iraq [the forerunner organization to ISIS] -- where'd they come from? They came from Iran. They traveled from Iran through Iraqi Kurdistan and then through Mosul before moving south through Al Sharqat and then Tikrit." The official added: "Iran ran a very subversive campaign against Saddam long before we got into that country. And we were dealing with those same lines of communications before we got there. Look what they've done to the Levant, to Lebanon a couple times over. They're even in Gaza."

Col. Rick Welch spent roughly seven years in Iraq, and worked directly under Gen. David Petraeus during the surge and "Anbar Awakening" period, acting as a chief U.S. military liaison with both the Sunni tribes and Shiite militia groups that were integral to containing what was then a roiling civil war. "Back when we were getting intel from Iraqis at every level in our reconciliation program, they were telling us that Iran was funding any group that could keep Iraq chaotic," Welch said. "They did not want to see democracy in Iraq. They were keeping us tied down and were preventing the [post-Saddam] government from functioning in order to create the cover to let them to get their intelligence assets in place, especially in the south, and then influence the government piece by piece. That was not conspiratorial in nature; it was a deeply held conviction and perception throughout Iraq, and throughout the U.S. military." 

Intelligence reporting during this period, Welch added, suggested that Iran was indeed funding "al Qaeda-type elements" in Iraq as well as Shiite militias such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, both of which are now said to be playing a major role in fortifying central Baghdad and Shiite-predominant cities and towns in southern Iraq. Iranian documents captured by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2007 did indeed state that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC) was helping Sunni jihadists along with Shiite militias, although to nowhere near the same extent. 

"All of the EFPs [explosively formed penetrators], IEDs [improved explosive devices], rockets, and rocket launchers we were seizing -- all of this was coming out of Iran via the Shiite militias," Welch said. "Asaib Ahl al-Haq was getting $20 million a month or some outrageous figure like that to train their fighters. Their leadership was in Tehran, but their people operated in Iraq." Another Iranian client was the Mahdi Army, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has now constituted that militia -- once the bane of coalition forces in Najaf and beyond -- under the new banner of the "Peace Brigades." (Though that somewhat anodyne rebranding has not stopped Mahdi militants from marching through Baghdad with mock suicide vests.) According to Welch, the Mahdi Army "was going to Iran and getting training not in guerrilla warfare but in how to stir up sectarian conflict."

The call to arms by both domestic and Iranian Shiite forces this month follows not only the mass desertion of tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Force soldiers in the wake of ISIS's invasion and sacking of Mosul earlier this month, but also the diktats being issued by IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani. He reportedly traveled to Baghdad in the last fortnight and is now rumored to be manning most of the Maliki government's security portfolio -- a particularly burdensome task given that he's already been in charge of Bashar al-Assad's for well over a year.

Suleimani has overseen the formation and training of various Shiite militia groups in Syria, composed of fighters native to the country but also from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Europe. This operational beef-up of Damascus's security apparatus is meant to add 150,000 new pro-regime fighters into the Syrian civil war, and was actually named for Suleimani himself, according to Dr. Shimon Shapira, a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces and a regional expert on the IRGC. By one Israeli think tank estimate, there may now even be more Shiite foreign fighters in Syria backing Assad than there are Sunnis agitating for his overthrow.

Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militia groups, has also noted that the Shiite militants recruited and trained for service in Syria have been returning to Iraq since last January, since roughly around the time that ISIS first invaded Anbar province and seized control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, the provincial capital. Smyth argues that although they have been enlisted under the pretext of "protecting" Shiite holy sites and shrines, this is a mere dog-whistle for rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes. Writing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he noted that in January and again in March, two such militia groups -- Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) and its constituent, the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) -- "were described as 'protectors of holy sites in Syria and Iraq,' including the Hadi al-Askari shrine in Samarra, Iraq. By mid-May, both groups had launched their own recruitment efforts to field fighters in Iraq. And by late May, the RRF had reportedly deployed to Abu Ghraib, an area with no prominent shrines to 'protect.'"

Colonel Harvey argues that for these reasons, Washington must be wary of even objectively or temporarily aligning itself with the IRGC's Suleimani, whose strategy thus far has been to retrench along sectarian lines -- strengthening militia groups' holds on Shiite-majority cities such as Karbala, Najaf, and Samarra -- rather than taking the fight to ISIS in Sunni-majority areas.

Amplifying remarks made in London last week by Petraeus, who warned against using U.S. air power as cover for IRGC activities in Iraq, Harvey said: "The Finlandization of Baghdad even more so is a good outcome for Qassem Suleimani and Iran's ability to increase its influence in Iraq.... They're shaping that country's security, government, and intelligence apparatus to be compliant to their wishes."

The fact that Iran has facilitated or underwritten al Qaeda in the Middle East is only counterintuitive to those with short memories, or who don't bother to keep up with the U.S. government's more recent assessments. The 9/11 Commission Report, for instance, found that al Qaeda and Iran formed an "informal agreement" in Sudan in the early 1990s to "cooperate in providing support -- even if only training -- for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States." The commission also found that "there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers," although it found no evidence that Tehran was aware of the pending attack on the United States. 

In his superb September 2013 profile of Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker's Dexter Filkins cited former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who is otherwise portrayed in that piece as amenable to a U.S.-IRGC alliance, as saying that in 2003 Washington gained intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda agents in Iran were planning attacks against Western targets in Saudi Arabia. Crocker even flew to Geneva to warn the Iranians against such provocations, to no avail. Three residential compounds in Riyadh were subsequently blown up, along with 35 people, including nine Americans. 

Suleimani's promiscuous enlistment of any and all enemies of the West eventually backfired, however, as the Sunni jihadists he insinuated into Iraq began waging terrorist attacks against Shiite targets, such as the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, which the IRGC commander is now intent on ring-fencing from ISIS. "Suleimani wanted to bleed the Americans, so he invited in the jihadis, and things got out of control," one Western diplomat in Baghdad told Filkins.

Even so, Iran's cooptation of al Qaeda and Sunni extremists does not appear to have been severed since the bloodiest heights of Iraq's civil war. Last February, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, an Iranian-based Uzbek affiliated with the Islamic Jihad Union, which is accused of "provid[ing] logistical support and funding to al-Qa'ida's Iran-based network." That network, the Treasury designation stated, "facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to al-Qa'ida core and other affiliated elements, including the al-Nusrah Front in Syria [the official al Qaeda franchise there]," as well as helping Kuwaiti donors send money to jihadists in Syria.

Added to this is the widespread allegation, shared by both the Syrian opposition and many defectors from the Assad regime, that Damascus purposefully released jihadists from the notorious Sednaya prison in 2011 as part of an "amnesty" designed to lay the foundation for terrorist structures in Syria. "The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades," one former member of Syria's Military Intelligence Directorate told the National newspaper in January. In February of this year, CNN's Arwa Damon interviewed a defector from ISIS who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Ammara. He claimed that the group wasn't quite the stalwart enemy of Assad's regime as it made out, and that suicide bombers are led to believe they would be attacking Syrian military installations only to then discover they were set on a mission to target rival rebel factions instead. "There were a lot of regime locations we could have taken without sustaining losses of our fighters," Abu Ammara said, "and we would receive orders to retreat."

It certainly is true that, until recently, Assad -- and through him Suleimani -- has largely refrained from targeting ISIS positions or its de facto administrative headquarters in eastern Syria with quite the same gusto or fury he has with other rebel groups. Many journalists have reported on this phenomenon. The New York Times' Beirut correspondent, Anne Barnard, tweeted on June 12 that a Syrian government advisor flat-out told her that fighting ISIS was not a priority for Damascus because its presence was useful as propaganda "tarring all insurgents" and framing the Syria question as one between Assad and jihad. This is why the group has managed to superimpose its caliphate-in-the-making all across eastern Syria, giving it control of most of the regime's oil fields. 

The Guardian's Middle East correspondent, Martin Chulov, who traveled to Aleppo last month, observed that the now-abandoned ISIS headquarters in that provincial capital, situated inside a former hospital, remained untouched by barrel bombs or Scud missiles whereas, right next door, the headquarters of a more mainstream Islamist rebel brigade, Liwa al-Tawhid, had been powdered. Chulov also helpfully reported last week that, based on Iraqi security forces' confiscation of ISIS digital material, the main sources of funding for the organization come from oil sales to the regime and the theft of priceless Syrian artifacts. Assad's curiously selective "war on terror" has made the most formidable terrorist network in Syria unbelievably rich.

None of the foregoing appears to have had much of an impact on the thinking of policymakers and analysts who are now advocating that Iran is our single best hope for containing ISIS.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN's State of the Union on June 15, "The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn't fall." In his most recent Washington Post column, David Ignatius, who ironically relies on Colonel Harvey's assessment of U.S. military options for Iraq, wrote, "The Saudis are going to have to swallow the reality that ISIS can't be stopped without some cooperation with Iran." It goes without saying that this is music to the ears of the mullahs who are now set on a carefully scripted propaganda campaign to end U.S. sanctions and lower the temperature on three decades of geopolitical isolation. Yet it is also deeply strident to those who spent a decade trying to save Iraq and have not quite forgotten or forgiven the one country that made their efforts all but impossible.