8

A Responsibility to Protect Iraqis?

CANBERRA – Only one possible justification – moral, political, or military – exists for renewed Western or other external military intervention in Iraq: meeting the international responsibility to protect victims, or potential victims, of mass atrocity crimes – genocide, ethnic cleansing, other crimes against humanity, or major war crimes.

Shia and other non-Sunnis in the path of the marauding ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) – a group whose ideology and behavior are too extreme even for Al Qaeda to stomach – have plenty of reason to fear such atrocities. Ugly executions of military and other captives have undoubtedly occurred in Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities seized by ISIS.

But, based on the evidence currently available, it would be premature to conclude that violence against the defenseless has already occurred – or is imminent – on the scale necessary to justify outside military intervention.

Though pundits have been wrong about almost everything so far in this round of violence, the best current assessment of the overall military situation is that the acute phase of the crisis is past. The mobilization of Shia militias means that the nightmare scenario, the fall of Baghdad, is unlikely, despite the virtual collapse of the Iraqi army.