Backed into a corner and influence waning, the United States has in recent weeks been promoting a plan to create an autonomous Sunni region in western Iraq, officials from both countries told Middle East Eye.
The US efforts, the officials say, come in response to Shia Iraqi parties’ attempts to expel American troops from their country.
Iraq represents a strategic land bridge between Iran and its allies in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
Establishing a US-controlled Sunni buffer zone in western Iraq would deprive Iran of using land routes into Syria and prevent it from reaching the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
For Washington, the idea of carving out a Sunni region dates back to a 2007 proposition by Joe Biden, who is now vying to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
It was hoped that the scheme could tighten US control over Iraq and provide protection for Sunnis during the 2006-08 sectarian civil conflict, in which tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis from both the Sunni and Shia communities were slaughtered.
But opposition to Iraq being divided along sectarian and ethnic lines, as well as Americans’ insistence on keeping the country united, has postponed attempts at its implementation.
Now efforts to expel US troops have breathed new life into the project, and the creation of a Sunni region is just one of the options being considered by Washington to counter Iranian pressure, a top Iraqi Shia official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MEE.
Iraqi unity “is no longer a priority now for the US,” the Shia official said.
“If the Americans reach a dead-end in terms of the presence of their forces in Iraq, they will work to implement this project vigorously.”
A former US official familiar with the project confirmed that the Americans have worked on “taking this project out of the drawer and putting it on the table”.
“The creation of a Sunni region has always been an option for the US. The Iranians cannot be allowed to reach the Mediterranean Sea or benefit from the land bridge connecting them to Hezbollah” in Lebanon, the former US official told MEE.
“The project is American, not Sunni. The presence of the American forces has been the guarantor for the Sunnis and the Kurds, so if the US has to leave Iraq, then establishing a Sunni region in western Iraq is its plan to curb Iran and its arms in the Middle East,” he added.
“We are talking about establishing a country, not an administrative region.”
Seriously, what passes for the conventional wisdom among the US defense and foreign policy establishment is remarkably stupid.