Disarray in Iraq
The United States-led war in Iraq that started in 2003 has led to a rather huge outgrowth of results and effects in the twelve years since. Indeed, Saddam Hussein was toppled, tried, convicted and eventually executed. Further, there have since been democratic elections in Iraq. Once the oppressed minority, the Shia that were dominated and controlled by Saddam Hussein now have a much larger and proportional amount of control over the Iraqi government in comparison to the rival Sunnis (of which Saddam was one) who now have a much smaller share of power. The Kurds are also in the equation. However, there have been other effects and outcomes that have been extremely dire. Whether it be all of the civilian casualties that have occurred in the years since 2013, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria (among other places) and the insurgency that rocked Iraq for much of the years immediately after major combat operations ended, there have been a lot of people hurt, killed, maimed, unemployed or otherwise affected by the aftermath of the Iraq War and this report shall explore those effects. While Having Saddam out of power is perhaps a good thing in retrospect, what has replaced his presence in the grand scheme of things is not all that attractive or hospitable to the people that live in Iraq in the present day.
One of the sources that has to be mentioned when it comes to the broader subject in play here would be The Peasant War in Germany by Frederick Engels. While the book did indeed pertain mostly to the German Revolution of 1525 and the similar conflagrations of 1848-1849, the point being made can absolutely be connected to the present day. Indeed, Engels’ main point was that the two wars just mentioned were not just a function of religion but also involved socioeconomic factors. Much the same thing can be said of Iraq in its present form. While Saddam Hussein (and Hosni Mubarak, for that matter) were very much dictators, they did have a modicum of control over the people that they forcibly ruled. When those two men were forced out, all hell broke loose in both countries. In Egypt, Morsi was elected and then basically started to take things over for the Muslim Brotherhood and their political and religious interests. What makes Iraq a little different and much more comparable to Engels is that the social, economic and other unrest is largely coming from regular people and small groups rather than state forces. Indeed, groups such as ISIS and the insurgency troops that were around in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war’s major operations ending was very much due to the power vacuum that had been created. The Sunnis and Baathists were enraged because they had lost power and the Shia were looking for much more control and perhaps a bit of payback. However, all of that has since been upended by the actions of ISIS and other people. Even as the duly elected officials in Iraq try to lead, there is a massive amount of chaos that is largely uncontrolled and is running rampant. Irrespective of what party or group one is speaking of, there are both socioeconomic and religious interests running amok within what is currently going on in Iraq. ISIS controlling and benefiting from the oil fields would be but one example (Engels, 2000).
Unemployment is one of the major subjects that stands alone as a major issue when it comes to the aftermath of Iraq. Much the same thing can be said about what has been going on as of late in countries like Afghanistan and the Philippines. Indeed, one can ask the question as to whether working men rebel as compared to those that are stuck without employment and, by extension, a steady income. When a country like Iraq is thrown into upheaval due something like a war or a coup, unemployment tends to skyrocket and the impacts to the populace are very real. This in turn tends to lead to unrest and riots as people that are unable to support themselves and/or their families are much more likely to be violent or at least angry about their circumstances. This set of circumstances being caused by a foreign country invading and/or occupying the country gives them a scapegoat and source to blame. Indeed, many people have and still do blame the United States for their role in creating the modern day state of affairs in Iraq. With all of that in mind, it has been found that most aid spending by governments that are seeking to build or rebuild an area focus on social and political order. More specifically, they focus on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting people that could otherwise be recruited to join movements like the Iraqi insurgency, ISIS or other similar groups. The fairly straightforward logic behind this assertion is that young men are much less likely to engage in political and other violence if they are gainfully employed. Further, there has been the implication of a positive correlation between unemployment and violence in areas that have active insurgencies or militant groups. This theory was tested in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. There was the use of unemployment survey data from two newly available measures of the insurgency. One of those measures was attacks against the government and/or allied forces. The other was any sort of violence that ends up in the death of civilians. A study by Berman, Callen, Felter and Shapiro (2011) on this precise subject found that there was not “significant relationship” between unemployment and insurgent attacks that kill civilians. With that said, there are a ton of variables involved that are all moving and changing together at the same time and it is hard to say for sure whether those feed into whether there was a lack of such relationship or if there is indeed no connection between unemployment and violence. However, it does make complete sense for unrest and unemployment (or many other economic maladies for that matter) to coincide (Berman, Callen, Felter & Shaprio, 2011).
As far as the political institutions of Iraq, there has indeed been the assertion by many that those institutions now lay in ruins or at least are “crippled” in a post-occupation Iraq. Such is the opinion of Adeed Dawisha who is a professor of political science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In his appearance at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, he had a few things to say on the subject. One thing he focused on was that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is starting to show “creeping authoritarian proclivities and attitudes.” This, in and of itself, could present a major threat to the overall stability of Iraq’s political institutions. Maliki is part of the now-dominant Shia leadership and the Shi’i State of Law Coalition. Dawisha offered the example of that latter group detaining members of the Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya political coalition. They were targeted under the stated auspices of being loyal to the Baathist party. That would be potentially problematic since the party was outlawed in the days immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Many people on the Sunni side of the Iraq power struggle reacted to these actions and orders on the part of al-Maliki as the sign and actions of a dictator. Maliki was none too pleased about this but he reacted to it in a rather dictator-like way by sending tanks to surround the Saleh al-Multaq … the person who made the “dictator” quip. Actions and outcomes like this and others have led Dawisha to point to the fact that the Iraqi cabinet is very “brittle” as a political institution. The Cabinet ends up having a very hard time making political decisions because its members are “torn by loyalty” to the people on their side of the political aisle and the groups that they tend to associate with. For example, a Sunni politician is going to be very slow or even loathe to cooperate with a Shia initiative or law due to the perceived sleight it could cause with the Sunni’s brethren in the party. Further, there is a proverbial “tug-of-war” between the central government mentioned above and the provincial governments that scatter the country. It would be akin to states in the United States fighting for autonomy over the federal government in Washington. While national Constitutions do exist in both the United States and Iraq and while both of them give fairly straightforward rules about what is federally controlled and what is controlled by the states/provinces, the general attitude of the Iraqi provinces towards the Iraqi Constitution and its authority over them ranges from ambivalent to outright hostile (Sprusansky, 2012).
Some reports from the United States government and the media at large have painted a fairly rosy picture about the state of affairs in Iraq after the war. Indeed, there was precisely such a summary and review in 2007. However, those reports, at least to many, paint way to rosy a picture and greatly overstate the reductions in violence and general unrest in the country. Specifically, there is a good amount of improvement that is asserted to have been present at the time but many retort that those purported gains are not nearly as significant as has been stated and otherwise represented. There was also some disagreement about the status and handling of refugees to their home or new countries as a result, directly or indirectly of the Iraqi War. As mentioned before, there have also been some massive amounts of tension between the ruling Shia politicians and their leader Maliki and the Sunni that generally oppose them in all of the ways that matter. However, one need not have known the minutia of the statistics to know that something was clearly amiss. For example, even while there were gains touted and bragged about in November of 2007, there was an explosion in an al-Ghazl pet market in the central area of Baghdad. That explosion, by itself, killed fifteen people and injured four times that. The arrested parties in connection to that attack were Shia militants. Indeed, Shia militants were attacking people in their own country even though their arc of Muslims/Arabs led the party already at that time and this had been the case since democratic elections happened in the post-Saddam era (Chehab, 2007).
One economic staple of the Iraqi landscape is that of an agrarian economic structure. In the years after Iraq, many people and groups have weighed in on propping up and helping the Iraqi economy and a lot of that chatter has centered on the agrarian efforts and frameworks of the country. One of the people and groups that have weighted in is the United States Department of Agriculture. One problem with getting the agriculture sector of Iraq back on its feet is that the violence and upheaval in the country was front-page news for quite a while but the same could not be said of the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure and economy, agriculture-related or otherwise. This is a bit vexing given that agriculture is far and away the biggest employer in Iraq and fixing that sector alone would greatly buttress and improve the odds of an ongoing and sustained recovery or even general improvement of the Iraqi economy. However, even those efforts that did exist to bolster the agricultural sector of Iraq fell flat for many because the values, products and ideas were centered on American values rather than Iraqi ones and many people and groups seemed more interested in marketing products than doing what was best for the Iraqi people. Lastly, there has been the case made that the USDA has engaged in entirely too much navel-gazing and self-important talk that is not grounded in reality or evidence-based practice. Indeed, relying on tactics and habits that are unproven or that have failed miserably really does not do much for the people and groups that rely on the Iraqi economy flourishing and growing (Singer, 2008).
Overall, there is one single problem that obviously and completely rises above all others in that pretty much everything else is an outgrowth of that largest problem. Of course, that largest problem is the general power vacuum that now exists in Iraq and that has existed for some time. For a time, there was a unnerving and persistent problem whereby the Iraqis were less than pleased with the American and other troops occupying their country. At the same time, anyone with foresight knew that just pulling out and leaving the Iraqis to their own devices would be a huge miscalculation for two major reasons. First, the country’s infrastructure and resources were significantly impacted by the war. This is not uncommon and happens in many wars. Bridges get bombed, airports get leveled and governmental targets are by far the most common. In the wars of the 20th century, there was often a rebuilding process that allowed the country that was defeated to rise up and recover in the years and decades after the war. Both Japan and Germany were examples of this after the carnage that was World War II. A similar effort was leveraged in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan) in the years after the military operations in both countries. However, the insurgency and the other part of this general problem made a lot of those efforts ineffectual or just a waste of time in general. Because there is not, to this very day, the lack of a strong central government in the country of Iraq, the country is unable to control its own destiny and serve its own interests in a lot of ways. This is precisely why we are not seeing ISIS and other groups overtaking entire cities at a time as the Iraqi government, and for a litany of reasons, does not have the organization, cohesiveness and resources to stop ISIS from doing so. Considering that ISIS is not a nation state and its resources pale in comparison to any military of any stature, that is saying a lot. If Iraq had a strong central government and the military/police/political resources to reinforce that power, Iraq would be in much better shape right now. It is quite sad to say that the current Shia/Sunni power struggle is actually inferior to when Saddam controlled the country in the name and interests of the Sunni Muslims. Even with all that clamoring and demanding that existed to “bring our boys home” from Iraq after years of war there, there are even elected politicians and other prominent people in Washington like Lindsey Graham and Barbara Lee that have openly questioned whether it was less than wise to withdraw such as we have due to what has happened since then and still continues to happen to this very day (Graham & Lee, 2015).
While the power vacuum in Iraq post-Saddam and post-withdrawal of United States troops is a major concern, one thing that has happened as a subsequent result of that vacuum being present if even nastier. Of course, this would refer to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), otherwise known as ISIL which is short for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Levant is the region that is generally accepted to include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories within Israel. The ferocity and sheer brutality of ISIS has led to it being referred to as a revolutionary state. It has been compared in many ways to the French Revolution in the late 1800’s and the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 20th century. The unapologetically stated goals of the ISIS movement are pretty alarming. Indeed, they wish to eliminate “infidels” (commonly interpreted to be anyone that is non-Muslim or that otherwise opposes them including other Muslims), impose sharia law worldwide and hasten the return of the “prophet.” They stand in stark contrast to Al Qaeda in that Al Qaeda had little to no interest in controlling territory. ISIS is doing precisely the opposite in that they are actively trying to (and are often succeeding) in controlling areas of Syria and Iraq. ISIS, while not really a nation state, is absolutely taking on a lot of the frameworks that are associated with nation states including focuses on educational systems, taxation and so forth. Some journalists have gone so far as to say that while many consider ISIS to not be a nation state, doing so is actually incorrect because they are indeed a state even if their borders to tend to very a bit by the day due to gains and losses as a result of blowback from the countries they occupy, other nations in the West and the nations they occupy including the aforementioned Syria and Iraq (Walt, 2015).
While some consider the ISIS movement to be a new and scary development on the world scene, there is plenty of precedent for what is going on even if the precise manifestations are a little different. The French and Bolshevik revolutions were mentioned before. There have also been similar situations at one time or another in China, Cuba, Cambodia and Iran. In many to most of those situations, the upheaval is about creating a new political order that is centered on a philosophy that is different (if not very different) than the one that exists. Given that ISIS is very much (although not entirely) a Sunni group, they have a vested interest in overthrowing or at least disrupting the ongoing operations and existence of the Shia-dominated government in Iraq right now. Another history parallel that cannot be ignored is that ISIS, much like the people of other revolutions, preach that victory is assured and inevitable so long as the people in the collective are allegiant and committed to the cause. In that way, ISIS is very much like Lenin and how he tried to inspired his followers. Of course, Lenin eventually died and the U.S.S.R. later collapsed. However, he most certainly had troves of believers and acolytes at the time that fully believed in what he was speaking of and what could become of the Soviet empire of that day (Walt, 2015).
Something else that is happening on a cataclysmic level due to the ISIS situation, although it is more of a problem in Syria rather than Iraq, is the flood of refugees that have been displaced due to the violence. Indeed, there are a flood of people streaming into Eastern and Western Europe as a result of the ISIS-led bloodshed in the Middle East and even the United States and other areas that are not contiguous with the Middle East have pledged to help the situation there. However, countries like Lebanon and a few others in the Middle East have been weathering refugee floods for years as a result of the same and other violence in the region. If the patterns and actions of ISIS follow the same string as prior movements, it will end with the group moderating its tone like the U.S.S.R. and other countries have done (unlikely) or the group being vanquished through military or other action. Regardless of what ends up happening and when, there is really no chance that ISIS will achieve its goal of world domination. Even in the most hopeful of scenarios, it has to be remembered that while there are one billion Muslims or so in the world, a vast majority of them are not loyal or even sympathetic to ISIS and there are six billion other people in the world. While ISIS may lodge attacks in cities like San Bernardino and Paris (both are real examples, of course), the governments and resources of the countries they are attacking are far superior and there is no way that ISIS could defeat them. If ISIS were to go head to head against the United States, let alone a collective of nations, in a traditional war they would be decimated and reduced to cinder in short order. The only real reason that has not already been done via bombs from the air is that tracking ISIS troops is not always easy and collateral damage is always a concern. Of course, ISIS and other militant/terrorist groups actively cease and take advantage of the latter by hiding their people and resources in areas full of innocents (Walt, 2015).
That being said, destroying ISIS is far easier said than done. While countries like Russia, France and the United States are currently talking a tough game, the actual art and science of getting rid of ISIS is not going to be simple. First, there is the argument of many that bombing ISIS-controlled areas just emboldens them further and many people (including some Westerners) are compelled to join them due to the collateral damage and deaths that happen as a result of the bombing. Indeed, we are no longer in the era of Truman where bombing two civilian cities just to scare the other country into submission is just not an option, even if Truman’s ploy worked. Indeed, it is highly likely that ISIS will very much fade away much like Al Qaeda has done since its infrastructure and leadership was gutted in the years after 9/11. However, the “what” and “how” behind that remains to be seen. It is entirely possible that they will turn against each other and they will fall away on their own. It is also probable that a sustained hunting down and killing of all ISIS leaders and adherents could work if done in a sustained fashion. The linchpin of really succeeding, at least to many, is to make absolutely sure that Syria and Iraq are kept stable and operational as governments. If they are not, then what happened in Afghanistan pre-2001 with Al Qaeda and the Taliban will happen in those countries. For example, if Maliki and the other leaders in Iraq are able to keep a cohesive government together, the odds that ISIS will succeed is exceedingly slim. This is even truer if they can sustain control of the major cities that are currently trading hands back and forth with the aforementioned Raqqa being an example (Walt, 2015).
Even with the above, the United States and other countries need to be very careful with how they fight ISIS and what they say about the same. If ISIS is labeled and identified as a dire and major threat, this will only embolden the people involved to believe that they really have a shot. Of course, they do not have a shot at all in the long-term unless the United States and the other powers of the world sit on their hands and do nothing. Even so, while the United States and other countries should not talk up the capabilities and threat of ISIS, they should also make sure to prop up and help the governments under siege and they need to do whatever they can to kill the leaders and cripple the resources of ISIS so that they are less and less able to be successful against the people and countries that they wage war against (Walt, 2015).
Final Analysis — The Common Man
If there is one thing to take away from all of the above, it is clear that the common man has been greatly impacted by the Iraq War and is currently being impacted by the spat between ISIS, the rest of the Middle East and the West. The agrarian structure of the Iraqi economy has been greatly disrupted as trade routes have become treacherous, trade between farmers and buyers has been inhibited and general agrarian activities have been greatly disrupted. This leads to less wages and/or unemployment in general and this, to use a pun, sows the seeds of discontent for many Iraqis. This, among other things, is what surely helped fuel the insurgency in Iraq and is probably a boon to ISIS as well for those that are willing to take up their cause. Whether it be simple opportunism on the part of the common man or a shared ideology (if not both), having an economic disruption that impacts the common man only helps make the country more chaotic, prone to violence and otherwise absent any normalcy and consistence when it comes to economic and societal progress. As with most situations like the above, the “declasse'” ranks of the people are the hardest hit because they have the fewest resources and recourse when things get rough. The rich can be mobile and shift if things get nasty but the same cannot be said for the people of lower social class or status. It is much like the very poor of the United States or other western nations. The major difference is that those western countries are not active war zones and Iraq most certainly is, at least in some areas right now. Over the last twelve years, the area of impact was much larger and recover is still fleeting to non-existent for many people. Unless the current ISIS movement is stomped out, the prospects for Iraq (and Syria for that matter) are quite grim. The ability of ISIS to destabilize the government must be neutered as soon as possible.
While the Shia/Sunni squabbling in Iraq is troubling, that is nothing new to those two groups as they have had animosity towards each other for more than a millennia. However, the non-ISIS supporters of Iraq and Syria have a vested interest in making sure ISIS does not take hold in either or both of their countries. Syria is a mess more because of a civil war and a brutal dictator in the form of Assad. However, the current state of Iraq is very much the result of the Iraq War in 2003 and thus the United States has a burden to assist their current government.
Berman, E., Callen, M., Felter, J. H., & Shapiro, J. N. (2011). Do Working Men Rebel?
Insurgency and Unemployment in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines. Journal Of Conflict Resolution, 55(4), 496-528. doi:10.1177/0022002710393920
Chehab, Z. (2007). Iraq: no end to the suffering. New Statesman, 136(4874), 34-36.
Engels, F. (2000). The peasant war in Germany. New York: International Publishers.
GRAHAM, L., & LEE, B. (2015). Was It a Mistake to Withdraw U.S. Troops From Iraq?. New
York Times Upfront, 148(4), 12-13.
Singer, R. (2008). Politics of the Principle of the Oxymoron: The USDA’s Organizational
Rhetoric on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq. Conference Papers — National
Communication Association, 1.
Sprusansky, D. (2012). Post-Occupation Iraq’s Crippled Political Institutions. Washington Report
On Middle East Affairs, 31(3), 65.
Walt, S. M. (2015). ISIS as Revolutionary State. Foreign Affairs, 94(6), 42-51.
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