James Jeffrey
February 10, 2014

Editor’s note: It’s not called forever war for nothing.

Iraq has made an unwelcome return to the American public consciousness. In late December, the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized considerable territory in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province. Its gains included neighborhoods in the city of Fallujah, the site of an epic U.S. battle against al Qaeda in 2004, rekindling American fears that its old enemies have gained the upper hand in a region where the United States sacrificed so much blood and treasure.

President Barack Obama’s administration is doing the right thing by increasing intelligence and operational cooperation with the Iraqi government, sending weapons to the Iraqi army, and moving forward on attack helicopter transfers. At the same time, the administration is correctly pushing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to govern more inclusively, as his marginalization of the Sunni Arab minority has contributed to al Qaeda’s appeal among the community.

But despite Maliki’s flaws, the United States should wholeheartedly work with him in combating the jihadist threat. He is, after all, the elected leader of a critically important country, and the aid we are providing serves the vast majority of the Iraqi people in a desperate fight against a merciless enemy. It is obviously a core U.S. national interest to block al Qaeda from establishing yet another base in an ungoverned territory. This is particularly true in the case of Iraq, which if stable can provide oil exports of 6 million barrels a day by 2020 — an output that would have a hugely positive impact on the global economy. Moreover, given the American sacrifice there, failure to help defend Iraq against a sworn enemy would further undercut U.S. credibility in the Middle East.

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