February 22, 2006 was a turning point in Iraq. Bombs – probably placed by extremist Sunni Arabs – destroyed the gold-plated Shiite Muslim shrine (mosque) in Samarra. Shia Muslims had been victims of bombings since the fall of 2003; this was the attack that caused patience to burst. They launched retaliatory actions against Sunni Arab areas and groups. Since then, Iraq has sunk deeper and deeper into violence and division – car bombings, torture and killings have become commonplace, and the execution of Saddam Hussein took place in forms that fuel the conflict. Iraq is currently ravaged by a civil war with potentially far-reaching regional consequences.
- How did Iraq and the United States end up in this catastrophic situation?
- What are the main issues in today’s Iraq?
- What will be the new US strategy?
2: Based on violence
Iraq was not formed out of a natural, genuine community. The British established the country after World War I when France and Britain divided the Middle East between them. After a very hard march against Baghdad, which cost them 98,000 troops, the British took the city from the Ottoman Empire. In March 1917, General Maude declared that his forces “had not come as conquerors, but as liberators.”
Opposition to the British was nevertheless great from the beginning, especially among the Shia Muslim majority, but also among many Sunni Arabs. After a few years, the resistance was defeated and the British installed Faisal I on the throne. He did not come from Iraq, but from a Gulf family. But it was not until 1925 that the Kurdish areas of present-day northern Iraq were incorporated. Oil was discovered around the city of Kirkuk. The Kurds also opposed the formation of a state with weapons in hand.
The Iraqi state was thus founded on violence , and political violence continued throughout the 20th century. In 1958, the royal family was deposed, and the king and his prime minister, Nouri Said, were assassinated. Said was lynched by a crowd as he tried to flee dressed as a woman. Several coups followed, before the Ba’ath party took power during the 1968 revolution.
In the 1970s, according to healthvv, Saddam Hussein gained more and more influence before formally becoming president in 1979. He purged all those he distrusted and oppressed, especially Shiites and Kurds. During the Anfal campaign in the 1980s against the Kurds, up to, and perhaps more than, about 180,000 people were killed, and entire areas were laid waste. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch calls it a genocide. Shia Muslims were systematically oppressed, especially brutal was the way their uprising after the first Gulf War was crushed.
After the defeat in 1991, Saddam Hussein still managed to stay in power, but Iraq was subjected to harsh sanctions that drained land and people of power in the decade that followed. His board gradually became more and more a clan board where he gave power and authority to his own family from the Tikrit area.
3: The Occupation: Fatal Decisions
On April 9, 2003, advancing American troops overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime after a brief war, and the United States was soon declared a occupying power. The US-led invasion was launched because the United States claimed Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. After the invasion, the American-clad Iraqi Survey Group was given the task of finding them. 1400 people searched until 2005 without finding traces of weapons of mass destruction.
Eventually, the Americans also claimed that they had entered Iraq to create a democratic Iraq that would once again be an example for the entire Middle East. Other open arguments for the invasion were to fight international terrorism and remove the despot Saddam Hussein.
However, there was no clear plan for how Iraq would be governed immediately after the invasion. It was not until May 6 that the United States sent Paul Bremer to Iraq to head the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Several decisions were quickly made that would have major consequences for Iraq’s future: Among other things, the entire Iraqi army was to be disbanded and the state “de-athified” . Both the Iraqi exiles who advised them and the Americans themselves saw this as absolutely essential for Saddam Hussein and his supporters not to return to power.
When the army was disbanded, about 350,000 men were sent into unemployment. Especially for officers, who were often Sunni Arabs, this was a hard blow. They were professional soldiers with no other career opportunities. The army was also never a pure instrument for Saddam Hussein. For the Kurds and some Shiites, its role was probably unequivocally negative, but it was also a key institution before Saddam Hussein came to power. Likewise, there was a widespread perception, especially internally in the army, that it was he who held the country together. When the uprising began to take hold in the summer / autumn of 2003, the unemployed soldiers constituted a good supply of recruits.