Saturday, 22 October 2016

Iraq: One Mistake After Another

Yesterday, I read an article written by Toronto Sun columnist, Farzana Hassan, in which she warns of sectarian violence breaking out as Coalition forces gain ground against the so-called Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq (see: Sectarian violence will be an issue post-ISIL). She's right of course. In fact, she's just one of many people, including myself, who have been warning the world's leaders about sectarian conflict in Iraq for years. It's too bad the world's leaders haven't been listening. Indeed, the Pandora's box of ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq was opened when some of those leaders, notably President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, decided to invade the country and remove its dictator, Saddam Hussein, from power. Now of course, removing a ruthless dictator from power is never a bad thing. What is bad, however, is not having a sensible plan to deal with the aftermath. Saddam Hussein and his despotic regime was the only thing keeping Iraq together. But once his dictatorship was removed, all hell broke loose and none of our leaders in the Western world knew what to do.

The invasion of Iraq was just the first mistake. The second mistake was believing that once the people of Iraq were given the chance, they would create a vibrant, Western-style democracy. This was a very stupid assumption. It would be as if, after defeating and overthrowing the Nazi regime in Germany, the Allies decided that they would leave the country to its own devices after a year or two and assume that its people would create a modern, democratic state. Thankfully, that's not what happened. The Allied occupation of Germany lasted until the early 1950s, almost a decade after the end of World War II. During that time, the Allies set about transforming Germany into a Western-style democracy. Even after the Allied occupation formally ended, Western military forces remained in the country to oversee the German people's democratic transition. I remember a former professor of mine, who lived in Germany during the post-war years, telling me that as late as the 1970s, they were still being force-fed messages about the values of democracy. To make a long story short, building a modern, democratic state takes time. It's not something that happens overnight, or in just one to two years. So the presumption that once left to their own devices, the Iraqis would create a genuine democracy, was extremely short sighted.

Another crucial mistake that leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair made was keeping Iraq together in the first place. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post arguing for the partition of the country (see: Iraq: A Country Never Meant to be Falls Apart). I still stand by this argument today. As I said in my post two years ago, the country was never an exercise of self-determination for the people therein. It was an artificial construct of the former colonial powers, Britain and France. Several very distinct groups of people, most notably Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, were forcibly incorporated into a state designed by Western imperialists, not to mention a significant number of Christians that trace their ancestry to well before the Muslim Arab conquest of the region. The creation of what we now call Iraq was not only unjust, but was the catalyst for future conflicts.

When U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein and his regime from power, they had the opportunity to right a historic wrong by dismantling the Iraqi state and allowing its different ethnic and religious groups to govern themselves independently of each other. But instead, they opted to keep the colonial-era construct together, leading to the kind of sectarian conflict that people like myself and Toronto Sun columnist, Farzana Hassan, have been warning about. What the U.S. and its allies should have done after invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was to divide the country into separate states, just like the victorious Allied forces did to the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WWI, when they gave each of the peoples of that former imperial realm the right to form their own independent nation-states. They could then have proceeded to transform these new states into democratic countries, just as the Allies did in Germany after WWII. But alas, it's too late for any of this to happen. And although Iraq may still break up into different states (in a way, it already has when you look at the facts on the ground), there likely won't be any transition towards true democracy, but rather the emergence of new local despots - something a region as undemocratic and bereft of freedom as the Middle East hardly needs.  

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