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

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 sendtroops to Mount Sinjar in Iraq to save tens of thousands of members ofthe ancient Yadizi sect, who have been trapped there by terroristmilitias from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Sham/theLevant (ISISor ISIL) and who threatened to exterminate them. At first, the USsaid that 130 troops would be landing on Mount Sinjar to aid theevacuation, but then late in the day said that troops would not benecessary since the air strikes had been successful. This maybe the same kind of flip-flop as we saw last year in Syria. 

The political problem is clear. Many Western politicians supportedthe ground invasion of Iraq when it occurred in 2003, as it was almostuniversally believed that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of massdestruction, having previously used them against the Kurds and theIranians. Then when the war was won but became unpopular anyway,these politicians flip-flopped and decided that it was a dumb war andshouldn’t have occurred. So now they’re in danger of having toflip-flop again and get dragged kicking and screaming into some kindof military action in Iraq. Based on our experience in Vietnam, themost likely result of this is that we’ll be dragged into this war stepby step. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain will besending ammunition to the Kurds and added, “The first thing isto deal with this desperate humanitarian situation with people who areexposed, starving and dying of thirst … getting them to a place ofsafety.” Presumably these plans will have to be adjusted as well, inlight of America’s change of plans. 

France is going farther than Britain and has already begun sendingweapons to the Kurds. The office of French President FrançoisHollande said in a statement, “To meet the urgent needs voiced by theKurdish regional authorities, the head of state (Hollande) decided inliaison with Baghdad to ship arms in the coming hours.” 

Possibly the strongest statement was issued by Australia’sprime minister Tony Abbott: 

There is a darkening situation in the Middle East, inparticular northern Iraq. There is a continuing humanitariancatastrophe in and around Mount Sinjar.

The murderous hordes of ISIL, now the Islamic State are on themarch…

[Australia will] provide what assistance we reasonably can toprotect 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 … towardseveryone who does not submit. Plainly, as President Obama haspointed out, this is potential genocide.

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

Asked if that could include military action, Abbott said, “Wecertainly 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 (ISISor ISIL) has been overwhelming, and their gruesome brutality has becomelegendary. But still there are reasons to suspect that ISIS’s victorymay 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 lengthabout how the politicians and the mainstream media, many of whom wereopenly siding with al-Qaeda in Iraq against President Bush and theAmerican troops in Iraq, were completely wrong, and that Iraqi Sunnis were joining with the Shias in opposition to al-Qaeda in Iraq. As itturned 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 tounderstanding that is to look at Iraq’s two generational crisis warsof the last century: The Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920, and theIran/Iraq war that climaxed in 1988. In both of these crisis wars,Iraqi Sunnis and Shias put aside their differences and joined togetherto fight against outside enemies. For Iraqis, their nationalismis more important than sectarian differences. They joined togetheronce again in 2007, when they faced a major external enemy. 

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

Another lesson we can learn about Iraq today is to look at whathappened in the 1930s. Iraq today is one generation past the end ofthe Iran/Iraq crisis war, and Iraq in the 1930s was almost onegeneration past the end of the Great Iraqi Revolution. In my 2007 article, I quoted at length theLibrary of Congress (LOC) article on the history of Iraq. Here is abrief 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 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…

The arbitrary borders that divided Iraq and the other Arab landsof the old Ottoman Empire caused severe economic dislocations,frequent border disputes, and a debilitating ideologicalconflict. The cities of Mosul in the north and Basra in the south,separated from their traditional trading partners in Syria and inIran, suffered severe commercial dislocations that led to economicdepression. In the south, the British- created border (drawnthrough the desert on the understanding that the region waslargely uninhabited) impeded migration patterns and led to greattribal unrest. Also in the south, uncertainty surrounding Iraq’snew borders with Kuwait, with Saudi Arabia, and especially withIran led to frequent border skirmishes. The new boundaries alsocontributed to the growth of competing nationalisms; Iraqi versuspan-Arab loyalties would severely strain Iraqi politics during the1950s and the 1960s, when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser heldemotional sway over the Iraqi masses.

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

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

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

People sometimes think it strange to make these historicalcomparisons. “Who remembers all that stuff from the 1930s,” you maybe thinking. But in fact almost every person reading this article hassome knowledge of America’s 1930s Great Depression, having been toldby parents or grandparents. The same is true of the Iraqi people,except that their knowledge is about the 1930s in Iraq, the materialin the LOC history above. From the point of view of GenerationalDynamics, these generational histories are highly localized, andunderstanding a country’s generational history tells a great dealabout 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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