World View: Western Countries Struggle with Whether to Send Troops to Iraq

This morning's key headlines from

  • Western countries struggle with whether to send troops to Iraq
  • Iraq is repeating the events of the 1930s

Western countries struggle with whether to send troops to Iraq

The Obama administration flip-flopped on Wednesday on whether to send troops to Mount Sinjar in Iraq to save tens of thousands of members of the ancient Yadizi sect, who have been trapped there by terrorist militias from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Sham/theLevant (ISIS or ISIL) and who threatened to exterminate them. At first, the US said that 130 troops would be landing on Mount Sinjar to aid the evacuation, but then late in the day said that troops would not be necessary since the air strikes had been successful. This may be the same kind of flip-flop as we saw last year in Syria. 

The political problem is clear. Many Western politicians supported the ground invasion of Iraq when it occurred in 2003, as it was almost universally believed that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction, having previously used them against the Kurds and the Iranians. Then when the war was won but became unpopular anyway, these politicians flip-flopped and decided that it was a dumb war and shouldn't have occurred. So now they're in danger of having to flip-flop again and get dragged kicking and screaming into some kind of military action in Iraq. Based on our experience in Vietnam, the most likely result of this is that we'll be dragged into this war step by step. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain will be sending ammunition to the Kurds and added, "The first thing is to deal with this desperate humanitarian situation with people who are exposed, starving and dying of thirst ... getting them to a place of safety." Presumably these plans will have to be adjusted as well, in light of America's change of plans. 

France is going farther than Britain and has already begun sending weapons to the Kurds. The office of French President François Hollande said in a statement, "To meet the urgent needs voiced by the Kurdish regional authorities, the head of state (Hollande) decided in liaison with Baghdad to ship arms in the coming hours." 

Possibly the strongest statement was issued by Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott: 

There is a darkening situation in the Middle East, in particular northern Iraq. There is a continuing humanitarian catastrophe in and around Mount Sinjar.

The murderous hordes of ISIL, now the Islamic State are on the march...

[Australia will] provide what assistance we reasonably can to protect the people who are at risk not just from the elements, from starvation, from dehydration, from exposure on Mount Sinjar - but also who are at risk from ISIL forces.

We have seen over the last few months murderous intent ... towards everyone who does not submit. Plainly, as President Obama has pointed out, this is potential genocide.

We should do what we can to protect people from potential genocide ... No one wants to stand aside in the face of a potential genocide.

Asked if that could include military action, Abbott said, "We certainly don’t rule that out." USA Today and Belfast Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald and France 24

Iraq is repeating the events of the 1930s

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Sham/theLevant (ISIS or ISIL) has been overwhelming, and their gruesome brutality has become legendary. But still there are reasons to suspect that ISIS's victory may be short-lived. Some of the issues facing the Islamic State are: 

  • The Islamic State is holding a huge amount of territory that it occupied quickly. But to hold onto that huge territory requires resources and a great deal of administrative skill that the Islamic State may not be able to find, as people they govern become increasingly restive.
  • The Islamic State's recent successes result from huge caches of American-made weapons that aren't going to last forever, especially as air strikes target them.
  • The Islamic State's success in Iraq was made possible by the cooperation of former officers in Saddam Hussein's army, who were motivated by the hatred of the regime of Nouri al-Maliki, not by a desire to join the Islamic State. Those officers could turn against the Islamic State at any time.

In 2007, I wrote "Iraqi Sunnis are turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq", and wrote at length about how the politicians and the mainstream media, many of whom were openly siding with al-Qaeda in Iraq against President Bush and the American troops in Iraq, were completely wrong, and that Iraqi Sunnis were joining with the Shias in opposition to al-Qaeda in Iraq. As it turned out, these politicians and media sources were completely wrong and disgraced themselves by opposing American soldiers in Iraq. 

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the key to understanding that is to look at Iraq's two generational crisis wars of the last century: The Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920, and the Iran/Iraq war that climaxed in 1988. In both of these crisis wars, Iraqi Sunnis and Shias put aside their differences and joined together to fight against outside enemies. For Iraqis, their nationalism is more important than sectarian differences. They joined together once again in 2007, when they faced a major external enemy. 

History does not support the view that the Islamic State will succeed in permanently biting off the Sunni portion of Iraq as part of its the Islamic State. History supports the view that at some point, perhaps this year, perhaps next year or the year after, after the euphoria of victory has worn off, Iraqi Sunnis will eject the Islamic State. 

Another lesson we can learn about Iraq today is to look at what happened in the 1930s. Iraq today is one generation past the end of the Iran/Iraq crisis war, and Iraq in the 1930s was almost one generation past the end of the Great Iraqi Revolution. In my 2007 article, I quoted at length the Library of Congress (LOC) article on the history of Iraq. Here is a brief excerpt from that quote: 

On October 13, 1932, Iraq became a sovereign state, and it was admitted to the League of Nations. Iraq still was beset by a complex web of social, economic, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts, all of which retarded the process of state formation. The declaration of statehood and the imposition of fixed boundaries triggered an intense competition for power in the new entity. Sunnis and Shias, cities and tribes, shaykhs and tribesmen, Assyrians and Kurds, pan-Arabists and Iraqi nationalists--all fought vigorously for places in the emerging state structure. Ultimately, lacking legitimacy and unable to establish deep roots, the British-imposed political system was overwhelmed by these conflicting demands...

The arbitrary borders that divided Iraq and the other Arab lands of the old Ottoman Empire caused severe economic dislocations, frequent border disputes, and a debilitating ideological conflict. The cities of Mosul in the north and Basra in the south, separated from their traditional trading partners in Syria and in Iran, suffered severe commercial dislocations that led to economic depression. In the south, the British- created border (drawn through the desert on the understanding that the region was largely uninhabited) impeded migration patterns and led to great tribal unrest. Also in the south, uncertainty surrounding Iraq's new borders with Kuwait, with Saudi Arabia, and especially with Iran led to frequent border skirmishes. The new boundaries also contributed to the growth of competing nationalisms; Iraqi versus pan-Arab loyalties would severely strain Iraqi politics during the 1950s and the 1960s, when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser held emotional sway over the Iraqi masses.

Ethnic groups such as the Kurds and the Assyrians, who had hoped for their own autonomous states, rebelled against inclusion within the Iraqi state.

What all this shows is that Iraqi Sunnis and Shias unite when facing a foreign enemy, but at other times are in total political chaos. By changing a few of the words, the LOC history could have applied to much of the last ten years. 

Incidentally, the same cannot be said when you mix in the Kurds. To the Sunnis and Shias, the Kurds were enemies in these crisis wars, and bitter feelings run very deep because Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds. 

People sometimes think it strange to make these historical comparisons. "Who remembers all that stuff from the 1930s," you may be thinking. But in fact almost every person reading this article has some knowledge of America's 1930s Great Depression, having been told by parents or grandparents. The same is true of the Iraqi people, except that their knowledge is about the 1930s in Iraq, the material in the LOC history above. From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, these generational histories are highly localized, and understanding a country's generational history tells a great deal about how they're going to behave today. 

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Yadizis, Mount Sinjar, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, David Cameron, Britain, France, François Holland, Australia, Tony Abbott, Kurds, Great Iraqi Revolution, Iran/Iraq war, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki 

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