U.S. in ‘Wait and See’ Position After Iraq Election, Mattis Says


The victory of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party in Iraq’s recent election has put the United States in a wait-and-see position, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told reporters yesterday in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The secretary was in Colorado to preside at the change-of-command ceremony for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

“History tells us that all wars eventually end, and the decisions you take following a war -- comparing the United States leadership after World War II, versus what came out of Versailles after World War I -- can set the conditions for the future,” the secretary said, adding that in this case, the United States must first see who is going to be the prime minister, because no party or coalition won enough to govern Iraq on its own.

After World War II

“First, all wars eventually come to an end. By 1948, '49, after the vicious World War II, the Pacific Island Campaign was as vicious a fighting between two nations that's ever been in history,” Mattis said. “We all know what Germany did during World War II with death camps [and] with invasions across Europe.”

And yet, by 1948 and 1949, he said, “we were standing up NATO to defend Western Europe, and we were working with Germany.”

“The Marshall Plan was underway,” Mattis said. “We were [also] working with Japan.” Germany and Japan now are U.S. treaty allies, he noted.

Mattis pointed out that despite the rout of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, some terrorists remain in Iraq. “But it was interesting, wasn't it, that in the midst of everything going on next door in Syria, having recently destroyed the ISIS strongholds in Iraq – they are still isolated cells of them, of course,” the secretary said.

A Responsive Government

The secretary reiterated the United States will have to see whether the new Iraqi leaders form a responsive government. 

Mattis noted the Marshall Plan was met with initial skepticism.

“People in 1944 were told basically in five years we'll be serving alongside German troops and sending locomotives and railroad tracks to Germany,” he said. “We would have laughed in your face, said that's not going to happen; this is a war to the death. Damn near lost.” 

But that's exactly what we did, he noted.

“So wars rub the veneer off all of us and leave the passions really exposed, and now it's time for strategic thinking, for looking to the future, and determining how the Iraqi people can dictate their future,” the secretary said, “not external threats from Iran, not money from Iran, not internal threats from ISIS or other terrorists.

“This is between our two governments, and we'll see what government they end up with,” Mattis said. “So we'll play that forward. It's too early to tell.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)