Published on June 23rd, 2014 |
by Matthew Deacon
Iraq Crisis: Are ‘We’ to Blame?
Last week former Prime Minister Tony Blair said ‘We didn’t cause the Iraq crisis.’ The ‘we’ he was talking about was of course the British and American governments that in 2003 invaded Iraq as part of George W. Bush’s War on Terror. As Iraq slides into a renewed cycle of sectarian violence, destruction and reprisals we must ask, who is to blame for the horror rapidly unfolding across Iraq? Are ‘we’?
The current situation in Iraq is extremely complex and fast moving with new towns and cities coming under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) every day. In an environment fuelled by instability, regional conflict, sectarian tensions and a lack of governmental control ISIS has swept through large areas of Iraq seemingly unopposed. But, who are ISIS and what does their remarkable rise mean for Iraq?
ISIS is a Jihadist movement that aims to form a Sunni Islamic state that would stretch across the Middle East incorporating Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The group in their current guise began operations in 2013 participating in the ongoing Syrian civil war. In Syria the group have become renowned for their brutality and ferocity with hundreds of murders, assassinations and bombings accredited to them. They have been fighting openly against both Bashar al-Assad’s government forces and those of the Free Syrian Army, the major opposition group in Syria, attempting to form their own independent area of control.
ISIS is an extremely effective fighting force with reportedly over 10,000 fighters in its ranks and backed by hundreds of millions of dollars. Having fought across Syria they have gained valuable experience on the frontline as well as large caches of weaponry and a notorious reputation. ISIS is an extreme Sunni group which preaches a radical sectarian philosophy, describing Shiite’s as ‘infidels’. For Iraq’s large Shiite population the presence of radical, well armed, well financed and experienced Sunni Jihadists on Iraqi soil is very worrying. With reports and even footage of mass killings flowing out of Iraq every day this battle is now tittering on the brink of becoming an ethnic conflict.
During ISIS’s remarkable march through Iraq, capturing cities, towns, military bases and oil fields, there have been reports that other Sunni groups and individuals have been joining them. Many of the organisations and people that are fighting alongside ISIS can be traced back to the last invasion of Iraq.
In 2003 as British and American forces invaded and then occupied huge swathes of Iraq many, primarily Sunni, members of Saddam Hussein’s government and security forces fled or were captured. In the aftermath of the invasion militant nationalist groups and Islamic extremists waged war on the occupying forces. However, as the Iraqi government rebuilt itself and coalition forces slowly left the country the target of these attacks changed to targeting Iraqi institutions and forces more frequently. After the 2005 elections and the formation of a Shiite controlled government, attacks and reprisals by militias became increasingly sectarian as the previously disadvantaged Shiite population began benefiting from reforms whilst the previously favoured Sunni population felt disregarded and attacked. This conflict deteriorated into a civil war pitching government forces and Shiite militias against Sunni militias.
Despite the civil conflict dying down from around 2008, the appearance of ISIS has reemphasised the sectarian divides that run throughout Iraqi society. Both Sunni and Shiite militias have been strengthened by the deteriorating situation with reports that former members of Saddam Hussein’s security forces are fighting alongside ISIS. In Baghdad the government has been arming and encouraging the formation of Shiite militias that will fight alongside regular troops to attempt to stop the advance of ISIS.
In many senses this battle between a terrorist organisation and a national government is transforming into something much more sinister. The dividing line between ISIS and the Iraqi government is increasingly being drawn as one between Sunni and Shiite communities. Quickly this battle for Iraq is becoming a conflict not between two opposing armies but between two different creeds.
Who is to blame for this rapidly declining situation then? Is Mr Blair right when he says ‘we’ are not to blame? The roots of the Iraq crisis stretch out in every direction caused in part by the war in Syria, by the weakening of Al-Qaeda, by American, British and Israeli aggression across the Middle East, by discrimination and violence inside Iraq and by a vicious cycle of reprisals. There is no single reason for the rise of ISIS or for the heightening of sectarian tensions rather the situation in Iraq has been caused by many divergent, deadly and troublesome events.
Tony Blair is right ‘we’ didn’t cause the crisis but by illegally invading Iraq and carrying out extremely violent attacks, leaving thousands, including women and children dead, ‘we’ helped radicalise tens of thousands of Iraqis. By appearing to favour Shiite parties and politicians the American and British governments inadvertently reinforced long standing sectarian divides within the Iraqi community.
There is no one person or event to blame for the terrible situation that is currently playing out across Iraq but to ignore the role ‘we’ played is simply an insult to those who have lost everything. The crisis in Iraq won’t end until militancy and sectarianism can be put to an end, and ‘we’ must accept the role that western governments have played in stoking those fires.
Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.