After a decade of the United States and allies working to restore stability in Iraq, the nations of the world watch – some hesitantly, some willingly – as the oil-rich nation struggles to keep afloat amid a jihadist assault. While some have expressed willingness to help the Iraqi government, Europe is particularly not keen on stepping in.
The international response to the deteriorating state of Iraqi government stability is particularly of note given the willingness of President Nouri al-Maliki to seek help abroad. A New York Times report revealed this week that Maliki had requested that President Barack Obama send military aid and carry out airstrikes against jihadists affiliated with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter group.
Despite Maliki’s call, the aid never came, and in Europe, government officials appear hesitant to return to Iraq. In the UK, British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed to the media that the UK has no intention of sending troops into Iraq and that there was “no question” that this would not occur. “We left Iraq in the hands of elected Iraqi leaders with armed forces, with their own security forces, so it’s primarily for them to deal with,” he said, adding, however, that the UK would send humanitarian aid to Syria.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reacted to the growing crisis with more concern. “The international community must imperatively deal with the situation,” he said, though not specifying whether France would contribute to this effort. The Associated Press reports that France’s government did confirm that discussions as to what France’s role would be are on going. The report also notes that Spain has not made any public mention of getting involved – despite committing troops during the George W. Bush administration – and that NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen remarked that he could not see NATO getting involved.
The Russian government, meanwhile, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against a similar struggle with ISIS in Syria, used the opportunity to chide the United States. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov remarked that Russia was “greatly alarmed” by the events in Iraq but that they were a result of the United States’s “total failure” in the region. “We warned long ago that the affair that the Americans and the Britons stirred up there wouldn’t end well,” he said Wednesday.
Where Russia wagged a finger with little sign of interest in stabilizing the region, other nations have stepped up and mentioned the possibility of sending aid. Unfortunately for the United States, most prominent among those entertaining the possibility of helping the Iraqi government are China and Iran, two countries with which the United States has a particularly complex relationship.
The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement providing unequivocal support for the Iraqi government. “We hope that Iraq can return to stability, safety, and normality as early as possible,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, adding that China has “for a long time” been helping Iraq recover from years of war. “For a long time, China has been giving Iraq a large amount of all sorts of aid and is willing to give whatever help it is able to,” she concluded. Hua did not note whether that aid could potentially be military aid or merely humanitarian.
Iran’s concern over the rise of Sunni jihadists in Iraq is so high that it may be considering working alongside the United States to restore stability to the country, according to a Reuters report. An Iranian senior official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that the government “may be willing to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight back.” Such cooperation would be unprecedented for Iran and the United States, and while the possibility of Iranian troops on the ground is slim, the official confirmed that “We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East.”
Such declarations from Iran and China serve to highlight how challenging to the status quo of international relationships the conflict in Iraq truly is. The interests of nations across the planet could be in jeopardy should Iraq fall to a radical Islamist guerrilla like ISIS, whose strength, experts note, in large part stems from having a stronghold in Syria. While not all anti-Assad fighters in Syria are part of ISIS or other radical Islamist groups, the instability in that region allows the group to function with minimal impediments.
President Obama has vowed that the United States will not “rule anything out” to help Iraq, including the possibility of airstrikes against ISIS. In discussing the matter publicly, however, only one country has received the President’s approval as a partner to go into Iraq again. “Aussies know how to fight. I like to have them in a foxhole when we are in trouble,” President Obama said Thursday after meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is currently in the middle of a North American tour. Australia is a nation, President Obama noted, “that we always know we can count on, not just because they share our values, but we know we can count on them because they’ve got real capacity.”
Abbott, on his end, confirmed that he would be open to the possibility, if necessary, of sending military aid to Iraq. “I think it’s very early days to be talking about that,” he told the media, noting that the United States had not asked for any aid, but “obviously any request for help would be taken very seriously by us.”