World View: Generational Dynamics Historical Analysis of the Violence in Iraq

World View: Generational Dynamics Historical Analysis of the Violence in Iraq

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Iraq accuses of Saudi Arabia of sponsoring ISIS and ‘genocide’
  • Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq
  • Iraq in the 1930s generational Awakening era
  • The next steps for Iraq
  • Was the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq a mistake?

Iraq accuses of Saudi Arabia of sponsoring ISIS and ‘genocide’

Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in the past has suggested thatSaudi Arabia is supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS),but on Tuesday he used the strongest language ever: 

We hold them responsible for supporting these groupsfinancially and morally and for its outcome – which includescrimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood,the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic andreligious sites.

The Saudis vehemently deny this, but this is a sign of the gatheringsectarian conflict in the Mideast. Reuters and NBC News

Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq

Many politicians and journalists are expressing concern about apossible “Sunni versus Shia civil war” within Iraq. This brings backmemories of the 2004-2008 period, when the loony left, including NBCNews and the NY Times, were using the threat of a civil war as a wayof expressing contempt for President George Bush. Now they’re talkingabout civil war again but as a way of expressing sympathy for theirbeloved President Barack Obama. 

As I wrote dozens of times during that period, Iraq was and is in agenerational Awakening era, and so a civil war was and is impossible.In the 2004-2008 period, there was some violence between Iraqi Sunnisand Shias, but in the end, the two groups cooperated in expellingal-Qaeda in Iraq via the “Anbar Awakening.” I wrote about this in mylengthy April 2007 analysis, “Iraqi Sunnis are turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq,” which was the best and most accurate analysis of the Iraq war from anymedia source at that time. 

The key to understanding the relationships between Iraqi Sunnis andShias is to look at their last two generational crisis wars, the 1920Great Iraqi Revolution, in which the Iraqi Sunnis and Shias unitedagainst Britain, and the 1980s Iran/Iraq war, in which the Iraq Sunnisand Shias united against Iran. It’s important to understand that the1980s was not a sectarian war between Shias and Sunnis; it was anethnic war between Arabs and Persians. So it’s not surprising that in2007, Shias and Sunnis united again to expel al-Qaeda in Iraq in theAnbar Awakening. 

There is some violence between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, but there’s ahuge difference between “some violence” and “full-scale civil war.” Amajor turning point in the Iraq war occurred when al-Qaeda in Iraq bombed the Shiite al-Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006. This inflamed theShiites, who had previously been restrained, to the extent that theybegan launching death squads against the Sunni jihadists. However, bythe beginning of 2007, that violence was tapering off. 

This year’s invasion of Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS) has, once again, triggered some sectarian violence betweenIraqi Sunnis and Shias. However, in 2007, the sectarian violence wasbeing driven by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the sectarian violence today isbeing driven by ISIS. Many Iraqi Sunnis have joined the foreignfighters in ISIS in this sectarian violence, but multiple reportsindicate that the Iraqi Sunnis are fighting against the government ofprime minister Nouri al-Maliki, not against Shias in general. 

According to reports, the foreign fighters in ISIS are attempting toimpose strict Sharia law on Mosul and other captured cities. My guessis that the Iraqi citizens are not going to like this. 

Iraq in the 1930s generational Awakening era

If you want to understand Iraq today, a good place to start is inIraq’s previous generational Awakening era, the 1930s, following the1920 Great Iraqi Revolution. In my 2007 article, referenced above, Iquoted at length from the Library of Congress history of Iraq duringthat period. It’s well worthwhile to read that entire history, buthere I’ll only quote a couple of excerpts. 

First, here’s what happened during the 1920 crisis war, which was arebellion against British rule: 

Ath Thawra al Iraqiyya al Kubra, or The Great IraqiRevolution (as the 1920 rebellion is called), was a watershedevent in contemporary Iraqi history. For the first time, Sunnisand Shias, tribes and cities, were brought together in a commoneffort. In the opinion of Hanna Batatu, author of a seminal workon Iraq, the building of a nation-state in Iraq depended upon twomajor factors: the integration of Shias and Sunnis into the newbody politic and the successful resolution of the age-oldconflicts between the tribes and the riverine cities and among thetribes themselves over the food-producing flatlands of the Tigrisand the Euphrates. The 1920 rebellion brought these groupstogether, if only briefly; this constituted an important firststep in the long and arduous process of forging a nation-state outof Iraq’s conflict-ridden social structure.

Next, here’s what happened during Iraq’s generational Awakening era inthe 1930s: 

On October 13, 1932, Iraq became a sovereign state,and it was admitted to the League of Nations. Iraq still was besetby a complex web of social, economic, ethnic, religious, andideological conflicts, all of which retarded the process of stateformation. The declaration of statehood and the imposition offixed boundaries triggered an intense competition for power in thenew entity. Sunnis and Shias, cities and tribes, shaykhs andtribesmen, Assyrians and Kurds, pan-Arabists and Iraqinationalists–all fought vigorously for places in the emergingstate structure. Ultimately, lacking legitimacy and unable toestablish deep roots, the British-imposed political system wasoverwhelmed by these conflicting demands.

This is a pattern that Iraq follows: During generational crisis wars,when the survival of the nation and its way of life is at stake, theSunnis and Shias unite, and nationalism trumps sectarianism. (Thinkof America in World War II.) 

But during the political battles in the decades that follow the war(think of America in the 1960s), sectarianism trumps nationalism, andthe country splits into sectarian and ethnic political battles. 

That pattern is being repeated today. Iraqi Sunnis and Shias havemany bitter disagreements, but they unite when they have to. 

The next steps for Iraq

Based on the above analysis, here’s what I conclude: 

  • Talk of civil war is misguided. There will be no civil war in Iraq.
  • Talk of splitting up Iraq into three countries (Shias, Sunnis and Kurds) is misguided. It would give ISIS the independent nation it wants. And anyway, that’s not what the Iraqi Shias and Sunnis want.
  • Nouri al-Maliki is a big problem. Iraqi reconciliation will require him to be gone.
  • Iraq and Iraq did not get along in the 1980s generational crisis war, so they won’t get along very well now. And remember (because Iran remembers very well): Iraq used WMDs against Iran.
  • As in the case of al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, it’s the foreign fighters who have to be defeated. Eventually, the Iraqi Sunnis and Shias will unite against the foreign fighters.
  • However, the crisis is considerably larger than Iraq. The entire Mideast is inflamed now along sectarian lines, because the war in Syria has been allowed dominate the entire region.
  • In particular, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad is a genocidal monster who has been carrying out a policy of “industrial strength” torture and extermination on his opponents, mostly Sunni civilians. This has turned ISIS into a “jihadist magnet,” drawing would-be jihadists from around the world, including America and Europe.
  • ISIS is exponentially more powerful than al-Qaeda in Iraq was, because ISIS has about $450 million in cash and billions of dollars worth of captured American weapons.

In a sense, the sectarian war in Iraq is still a side show. The realwar continues in Syria, and the sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiasthroughout the Mideast will be the real war. 

Was the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq a mistake?

There’s a lot of talk about who’s to blame — Bush or Obama — for thecurrent debacle in Iraq. So to start with, let’s point out that thewar in Iraq didn’t begin in 2003. It began in 1991. And the BillClinton administration had several major and highly visible run-inswith Saddam Hussein over the latter’s refusal to allow inspections forweapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The Clinton administration wasbombing Iraq almost daily when Bush came into office. 

The 2003 ground invasion did not occur because we felt bad for the75,000 or so Iraqis that Saddam was killing every year. It occurredbecause of a nationwide — indeed, worldwide — panic over Saddam’sWMDs. He had used them against Iran in 1988, and he had refusedUnited Nations inspections to determine whether he was stillmanufacturing them, which only increased the sense of panic. 

Some people like to point out that France’s prime minister, JacquesChirac, said that Saddam had no WMDs. It’s hard to understand how hewould know that, especially since there was some evidence that Saddamhimself didn’t know he no longer had any stores of WMDs. But laterinvestigations revealed what was going on with Chirac. 

Jacques Chirac, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, and U.N. secretarygeneral Kofi Annan were all implicated in skimming hundreds ofmillions of dollars from Iraq’s “Oil for Food” program. This wasdiscovered when a list of the corrupt officials was found in Iraq’sOil Ministry after the war. In other words, Chirac, Putin, and Annandidn’t care how many people were slaughtered by Saddam’s WMDs; thethree of them were just cheap crooks that didn’t want their corruptionto be discovered, no matter how many people were killed. 

Finally, what would have happened without the 2003 ground invasion? FormerBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair recently pointed out that Saddamwould also have been subjected to the 2011 Arab Awakening, like allthe other dictators in the region, and that the current turmoil wouldhave occurred anyway. But that isn’t the worst of it. 

Iran had already been victimized by Saddam’s WMDs. If the U.S. hadsimply backed out and let Saddam do what he wanted, then Iran wouldhave continued to believe that Saddam had stores of WMDs. Iran wouldhave sped up its nuclear bomb development program and probably wouldhave developed chemical and biological weapons themselves. In thatcase, within a few years, we would have had Syria, Iraq, and Iran, allpossessing weapons of mass destruction and ready to use them. 

So, whether you like the 2003 ground invasion or not, things wouldhave been much worse without it. 

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, Saudi Arabia,Islamic Emirate in Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, ISIS, ISIL,Anbar Awakening, Great Iraqi Revolution, Iran, Iran/Iraq war,Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Jacques Chirac, Vladimir Putin,Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein 

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