So, as we all know, we’ve gone back into Iraq, and the President is making noises that indicate we might be going in deeper. We’re probably going to actually go in deeper this time, unlike in Syria, which means that it’s now time for a quick rundown on how we got to the point where a bunch of terrorist whackjobs got into a position to decapitate American citizens and overrun large portions of Iraq.
Let’s start in 1979. Saddam Hussein, who was instrumental in the Ba’ath party taking over Iraq around a decade before, formally becomes head of the country. Shortly thereafter, he declares war on Iran due to Ayatollah Khomeini’s attempts to stir up Iraqi Shi’as against his regime, as well as just a general power grab. Long story short, the war comes to a draw after initial Iraqi successes, the oppression of the Kurds ramps up heavily, and the Iraqi and Iranian economies are ruined. Also, the West and Arab states back Iraq heavily, because no one liked the Iranians.
Saddam then turns his gaze to Kuwait, looking for a way to get his country’s economy back on track. He invades. The United States pulls together an international coalition and absolutely shreds the Iraqi army in a matter of weeks, with ground combat lasting for less than five days. The Kurds and Shi’ites revolt. The coalition does not move on Baghdad, nor, after the war ends, does anything about Sadam’s rather savage reprisals, besides giving the Kurds some degree of protection.
Part of the treaty that ended the war involved Iraq agreeing to inspections for WMD programs, since it was acknowledged by everyone that Iraq was pursuing such a capability–and possessed it, particularly in the chemical weapon range. Iraq was, in fact, lousy at letting these actually happen, especially unimpeded.
Meanwhile, in Syria, Hafez al-Assad, instrumental in the Ba’ath party taking control of the country in the early 1960s, takes over in the 1970s. He is an Alawite, which makes him a minority in the land, and he is determined to see his people succeed. So he oppresses the Sunni majority at the same time that Saddam Hussein is oppressing the Kurd and Shi’ite majority in his country. The two of them are not friendly with each other until around the turn of the millennium.
George Bush is elected POTUS. Less than a year later, 9/11 happens. Bush, for various reasons still under dispute (and that is ALL I am saying about this), after invading Afghanistan, decides to invade Iraq in 2003, the justification for which was the twin notions that Saddam was A. a tyrant and B. working on WMD. The first: indisputable. The second: much more disputable. The conventional war goes swimmingly. The after-war planning, however, was lousy. For one thing, US forces were structured for a quick blitzkrieg, a nice victory party and handover of power to Iraqi exiles, then a quick flight home. This, as we all know, did not happen.
What did happen was that Paul Bremer, effectively the Governor-General of Ira, did several very stupid things–chief among them being disbanding the Iraqi Army, which had mostly decided to stay in their barracks, especially after what had happened the last time. While it wasn’t like the Iraqi Army was especially good, Bremer’s actions A. released tens of thousands of armed, trained men onto the streets with no means of support for them and their families and reason to resent the new regime and B. violated the terms of several deals we’d cut with Iraqi generals who were promised a place in the new order if they’d stay out of the fighting.
Syria, in the meantime, now led by Bashar al-Assad, serves as host for Iraqi refugees, as well as some Iraqi chemical weapons (probably). It also, along with Iran, serves as a support base for the Shi’ite portions of the Iraqi insurgency, sending fighters and weapons. Despite this, the US-led coalition succeeds in establishing a (relatively) stable government by the end of 2008, and all US forces are evacuated in 2010 by Barack Obama. Later that year, the Arab Spring begins in Tunisia, spreads to Syria by January of 2011, and the country goes into all-out civil war by the middle of the year.
As mentioned above, the al-Assad family is Alawite, which means they are Shi’ite Muslims, and Syria is largely Sunni. The resultant civil war is one of an Iran-backed al-Assad regime vs. Arab-backed Sunni Arabs vs. various other groups (sort of). Other polities get involved–Russia backs Assad, Turkey and the West back the rebels. The war is still going on, as neither side is receiving enough help to actually win–probably by design. In the meantime, Iraq is rolling back towards failed-state status due to Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki being an idiot. Both countries are sliding into lawlessness.
Cue the development of a group called the Islamic State in Syria, soon to become the Islamic State in the Levant, made up of Sunni Arab fighters blooded in the Syrian war who decide to establish a new base in Western Iraq, where they find willing allies in the Sunni minority who have been marginalized by al-Maliki. The Iraqi army, undisciplined and riven by infighting, folded like bad origami, and ISIL overran them and caused a massive refugee crisis. Then the US started launching airstrikes, and ISIL decided to retaliate.
And that’s how we got here–via the Law of Unintended Consequences, which has not been repealed, and will not be.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness