by Maya Ram
Let's understand Iraq's history and the various drivers to answer these questions.
The birthplace of one of the most ancient and precious civilizations in history, Babylonia, is located in the Mesopotamian valley in Iraq. Using tablets of clay, writing was first developed here along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Additionally, the first advanced governmental systems were formed here. Iraq can truly be said to be one of the cradles of human civilization.
Between 1534 and 1918, Iraq was occupied by the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. A conflict between two denominations of Islam, Shia and Sunni, first began when the Safavid Empire, known today as Iran, was declared a Shia Islam state while the Ottoman-controlled Iraq was declared a Sunni state. The Ottoman and Safavid empires fought several battles to take control of Iraq. Every time the power shifted, control was given to either the Sunnis or the Shias, creating a rift between the Shia and Sunni populations of Iraq that continued for years. To add to the confusion, Iraq also had several rebellious tribal domains that grew into political centers. While Iraq was in this chaotic state of affairs, trying to figure out the distribution of power, World War I broke out in Europe.
At the end of the first world war, the British made the situation in Iraq even more complicated. Britain broke up the Ottoman empire into separate areas controlled by France and Britain, and also created the new state of Israel. Iraq was controlled by Britain. The Iraqi people didn’t like having their land split up arbitrarily, and in May and June 1920 the Sunni and Shia tribes united to revolt against the British. Iraq became an independent country. Soon after, oil was discovered in the region, making Europe and the West want a stable, friendly government who would export oil to their countries. All of these complex factors added to the social conflicts and confusion in Iraq.
Late 20th century Iraq:
As Iraq adjusted to being an independent nation, there were several military coups and changes of political leadership. In 1980, Saddam Hussein, one of the worst dictators in history, was elected president. Under his rule, the wealthy Sunni Arab elites in Baghdad were given most of the power, which continued the fight between the Sunni and Shias. This resulted in a major war with Iran from 1980 - 1988.
Under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was responsible for thousands of deaths. Saddam alienated the indigenous Kurdish people in the country and attacked Kuwait in 1990, resulting in the first Gulf War, known as Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm where US troops were sent to protect Kuwait.
In response to the attack on Kuwait, the United Nations launched a series of sanctions, including a near-complete financial and trade embargo. The UN limited what Iraq could export and import in order to force Iraq to return Kuwait and get rid of any weapons of mass destruction. These sanctions created a tough economic situation in Iraq, and many of the Iraqi people suffered from the lack of medical supplies, food, and clean water. However, on an official level, the sanctions were mostly successful in limiting the development of Iraqi weapons.
In 2003, however, the U.S. and Britain believed that Iraq posed a major threat to the world. They thoug ht Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons, and were prepared to use them. The 2003 Iraq war under the U.S. leadership of George Bush began in order to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and terrorist activities, and free the Iraqi people. Saddam was removed and executed, and U.S. occupation began to help restore order in the region.
In 2011, President Obama pulled the U.S. forces out of Iraq after the establishment of a democratically elected Shia majority government. Unfortunately, the government turned out to be corrupt and excluded the Sunnis, leading to further chaos in Iraq.
Today, there is a new threat to stability in Iraq. A new and extreme Sunni terrorist organization called ISIS has grown out of the radical Sunni terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The ISIS gained the support of several of the tribes and leaders in Iraq and is capturing and terrorising many cities. They have recently announced that they will establish a new Islamic state with strict religious laws in the areas that they control. The world is concerned and worried about where this will lead, since the ISIS is extremely violent and currently controls oil fields in Syria, which gives them a lot of money to conduct their illegal activities.
Think About It:
As a result, an area which once was a place of learning and civilization is now an area caught between rival militant terrorist factions, facing a lot of corruption and danger. In light of what you have learned so far, do you think the world should intervene to protect democracy in Iraq? Who should be responsible for this intervention? Do you think that the American and Allied lives lost over the last several years have been for naught?