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Iraq was always a festering sore just waiting to burst 15 juin 2014

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Middle East / Moyen Orient.
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The People (UK) June 15, 2014, p. 12-13

By Professor Mark Almond *

Expert reveals inside story on why ‘rebuilt’ country has collapsed so suddenly. In less than a week, Iraq has returned to haunt the headlines – and Western leaders.

Ordinary people can be forgiven for being taken by surprise by the speed of events. But our government and its American allies have serious questions to answer about why they took their eyes off the ball in Iraq.

Until the sudden and rapid advance of Islamic fundamentalists into northern and now central Iraq, the West’s attention was focused on crises elsewhere.

Iraq’s neighbour Syria was in the middle of a brutal civil war. Iran to the east was the object of Western concern over its nuclear ambitions.

But Washington and London seemed to think they had put Iraq behind them.

Even before this crisis, people have asked what was achieved by the controversial 2003 invasion launched by George Bush and Tony Blair.

No weapons of mass destruction were found. Tony Blair’s reputation never recovered. Worse still, trust in our foreign policy was shattered by the fiasco of never finding the poison our troops had been sent into Iraq to stop dictator Saddam Hussein threatening people with.

But after British and US troops quit, Washington and London argued that even if no WMDs were unearthed, our troops’ sacrifices had left behind a stable democracy.


The unravelling of Iraq’s army in a few days shows it was an illusion.

Soldiers fighting for a democracy may be defeated by a superior enemy – but they don’t run away from a few hundred men, however fanatical.

It’s now clear Iraq was a festering sore waiting to burst.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS – is just the pus from a sick society.

Iraq is bitterly divided between two Muslim sects, Sunnis and Shi’ites.

These rivals claim to be religious but in reality they represent tribes.

Saddam was a Sunni and kept down the Shi’ite population.

Our invasion toppled his Sunni dictatorship but replaced it not with democracy but Shi’ite domination.

The pre-2003 underdogs became top dogs with our support.

Washington and London wanted a real democracy – but the Iraqi Shi’ites we backed wanted to run the country exclusively for themselves.

US war-weariness led President Barack Obama to agree a complete pull-out of US forces in 2011.

Maybe Shi’ites in Iraq’s government thought they could control the situation because they had £60billion in oil revenue to buy US weapons.

But corruption and favouritism sapped their own forces’ effectiveness and enraged local Sunnis.

Since January – while the West was looking away – jihadis operating from the chaos of Syria have been taking over Iraq’s Sunni areas.

Ten years ago Fallujah, about 60 miles from the capital Baghdad, was the scene of bloody fighting between US marines and Iraqi insurgents.

The Americans won that battle. But ISIS is now back in control of Fallujah and has been defying the Baghdad government for months.

This all has global consequences. Oil prices have already spiked and the longer ISIS remain on the march the worse the economic shock to our feeble economic recovery will be.


But the spread of ISIS looks set to start a bigger conflict.

Even if Iraqi Shi’ites cannot block the jihadis, Iran’s Shi’ites are not likely to let their sworn religious enemies come to power without a fight.

And if Iran intervenes in Iraq, even to fight local al-Qaeda extremists, the US and its ally Turkey will hardly stay out. Even regional backers of hand-chopping Muslim fundamentalists are beginning to feel uneasy.

Saudis and other Gulf sponsors of ISIS now realise they may be replaying the role of sorcerer’s apprentice we saw in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Then, Gulf money and volunteers such as Osama bin Laden went to fight Soviet invaders – with our backing, too. But in 2001 they bit the hand that fed them by launching the 9/11 attacks.

More recently, Gulf money has been backing jihadis in a bid to undermine Shi’ite regimes they dislike in Syria and Iraq. Now the oil-sheiks face the prospect their fundamentalist protégés will win – but won’t stop in Baghdad.

All sorts of countries have had a bad role to play in Iraq’s implosion.

America and Britain invaded on a false premise – then walked away.

P. 13

Just as the US did in Vietnam, we declared victory and left – only to see reality rear its ugly head.

Iraq’s feuding neighbours have made matters worse.

But no matter how tragic this unfolding catastrophe is for ordinary Iraqis, its consequences will reach out around the world.

Whatever the local issues, foreign fighters have flooded into Iraq – and not only from Arab states.

Last Tuesday a video celebrating the ISIS capture of Mosul appeared on YouTube. Its voice-over had a strong North London accent.

Perhaps only a few hundred British radical Muslims have gone to fight in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq.

But they could form the kernel of a terrorist movement when they get back home.

The dramatic advances made in Iraq by ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his jihadis is part of a sinister trend.

Muslim fundamentalist fighters are on the march across Africa and the Middle East.

Brutal And governments are struggling to contain inroads being made by the likes of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Because of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, those are countries the West must share responsibility for. As brutal radical Islamic groups push forward, 2014 looks like being a year of cruelly painful decisions for London and Washington.

Instead of marking the end of Western involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East since 9/11, Year 13 of the War On Terror looks likely to drag us back in.

And there are no easy answers. Whatever Obama and Cameron decide to do next, things will be bad. But it could get worse.

* International Conflict expert


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