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The Mess in Iraq

By       Message Lawrence Davidson     Permalink
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Cross-posted from To The Point Analyses

From Kurds Clash With ISIL in Iraq
Kurds Clash With ISIL in Iraq
(image by YouTube)

Part I -- George W. Bush's Invasion

Back in November 2003, President George W. Bush told the country that the invasion of Iraq was the part of an effort to "spread democracy throughout the Middle East." Initially, of course, the president had declared that the U.S. attacked Iraq to fight terrorists who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This specific claim could be fact-checked and indeed it was. Bush's claims, both about terrorists in Iraq and WMDs, turned out to be false.

The follow-up claim about spreading democracy could not be fact-checked. We can't even be sure if Bush and his neoconservative allies themselves believed in this radical goal of spreading democracy by the sword. Given that most of the regimes the U.S. has backed in the Middle East, including at one time that of Saddam Hussein, were autocracies of one sort or another, one can legitimately have doubts.

However, one thing we can be sure of -- the Americans are not the only ones who can launch a crusade based on an age-old idea. Islamic radicals, who may think they are replicating the spread of Islam as it took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, can do it too. And, thanks to George W. Bush, who opened the floodgates for them, these Islamist radicals are doing just that.

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Part II -- Saddam Hussein's Culpability

Bush and the neocons could not have created today's disastrous dilemma in Iraq all by themselves. There had to be preconditions, and for those we can look to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and the Sunni-Shiite divide he encouraged to further his power.

Worldwide, the Sunni sect of Islam is the majority one. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the world's Muslims are Sunnis. However, in Iraq the opposite is the case. Only 9 percent of the Iraqi population are Sunni. The rest are mostly Shiites. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein was of Sunni background and under his rule the Shiite majority was not trusted and often discriminated against, and their leaders were killed if they showed any signs of political resistance.

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The hatred that built up among the Shiites during this period of dictatorial rule came to the surface with the American invasion. Shiite leaders now took over and, with American compliance, turned on the Iraqi Sunnis. That helped spark a civil war that goes on to this day. The present Iraqi government's anti-Sunni policies are, of course, very unwise, but they are not unexpected, nor are they unpopular among the Iraqi Shiites.

In the current outbreak of violence, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the name of the radical fundamentalist group that has invaded Iraq from Eastern Syria and recently captured the city of Mosul, is also Sunni. My guess is that its commanders imagine they are acting in the tradition of the first Caliphs -- God-approved and -inspired. Thus, the nom de guerre taken by the present ISIS leader is Jihadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Abu Bakr was the Muslim world's first Caliph).

Part III -- Current Problems

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Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest
; America's
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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