George Bush Jr, after becoming President in 2001, divided people into two parts: the ones of goodness and the circle of evil. Terrorists were part of the second half. Indeed, two years before the War in Iraq started, Al Qaeda came up with the atrocity of the 9/11: Osama Bin Laden dedicated his money for the creation and organisation of Al Qaeda as a down payment for what Infedels had done to them 80 years before. As a consequence, Bush launched the so called “War On Terror”. The main aim of this article is to show and discuss the struggle that Iraqi population had to face with the American occupation; in order to do it in the best way I think it’s appropriate to analyse from a historical point of view the key-episodes of the war itself with the main motivations that brought United States to invade Iraq and, above all, the dynamisms towards the Iraqi country in order to better understand all the issues related to the artificiality of the well know “Nation-Building”.
Bush, as consequence of the 9/11 atrocity, regarded the fight against Islamic radicalism as a top priority. Fundamentalist terrorism became the new “Evil Empire”. However, the latter one was a very different enemy compared to the totalitarian regimes that America had faced in the previous century: terrorist organisations were a fleeing enemy, without a specific territory, with a leadership difficult to be identified. The new terrorists did not have a state and were often ready to die by doing their acts. On the other hand the facts showed that, although they were not military powers in the traditional sense, terrorist organisations were equally capable of carrying out actions that could cause thousands of victims. Therefore, the war against terrorist organisations was a task of information services and special troops.
Some regimes were accused of, more or less explicitly, supporting these terrorist groups: these are those states the United States defined as “Rogue States”; the first to be hit was Afghanistan, the second one Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban regime, which imposed itself in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviets, had agreed to Bin Laden’s organisation to create bases and training camps in its territory. The second state to be attacked was Iraq. United States accused the Iraqi territory of hiding weapons of destruction (such as lethal gases and perhaps atomic weapons) and of giving shelter to terrorists. Nonetheless these accusations, not even supported by adequate evidence, did not convince some governments and did not meet the approval of a good part of world public opinion. However, the Bush’s administration had already reached the conclusion that, in order to eradicate terrorism, it was necessary to redefine the political balance of the Islamic world, favouring the affirmation of democratic or at least non-hostile regimes to the West.
Obviously, the fact that Iraq was the second largest country in the southeastern area for oil reserves had a significant importance in determining the attack decision by the United States. Here we are at the first point that, concerning my personal point of view, needs to be stressed significantly: Superpowers like the United States, tend to shape human rights for personal economical and political gain (another very close example can be the “civilising missions” by European countries trying to justify their colonial enterprises). Since imperialism exists, it has always been used to cover its most aggressive actions in the name of moral abstractions and in the defence of general formulas, such as for example protection of human rights. However, the sad reality is that these formulas were exploited to try to hide from peoples and territories attacked their true objectives of imposing or strengthening economical and political control, with aggressive foreign policies in order to secure grip to power.
Differently from what happened in Afghanistan, the decision to wage a war on Saddam Hussein faced strong resistance from many countries. Indeed, not only the Arab States, but also France, Germany, Russia and China, as well as the leaders of the Christian churches, considered the war on Iraq dangerous for the world balances and relations with the Islamic world. The decision was undertaken without the mandate of the UN: an act devoid of international legitimacy, revealer of a will of hegemonic nature by the United States. The invasion, concerning Bush’s point of view, was justified based on an approach that will go down in history as a “preventive war” (since Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was accused of hiding and supporting Al Qaeda militants and possessing nuclear weapons) and “export of democracy” with the belief that to protect freedom in America you have to protect freedom everywhere and that there was no more the possibility to barter stability for freedom; democracy would have brought freedom and freedom would have brought prosperity and secularism; these two latter ones together would have fought terrorism. The United States invaded Iraq with an immediate target: neutralising the weapon of mass destruction of Saddam Hussein and, with a long-term strategic goal, establishing a democratic and multiethnic state in the hearth of the Middle East; USA wanted to establish a democracy 82 years after the British creation of Iraq. If their first aim was revealed to be unfounded, the second one has to be considered as the only declared justification by the Bush administration and its allies for maintaining military occupation forces in the field. As a premise, it’s important to remember that “democracy building” per se takes a lot of effort and time, as we could see for example even in the western experience: from the glorious revolution in the second half of seventeenth century in England, democratic path wasn’t that easy; there have been centuries of revolutions, civil wars and inter-states wars that have caused death and grief. Democratic institutions, even where they have been stablished themselves, have remained exposed to risks, as we could experience for example through totalitarian regimes in Europe: it’s strictly connected to what we know as “paradox” of democracy.
Iraq, 20th March 2003. Iraq was invaded by, as Bush himself affirmed, a volunteer coalition, supplied by England, without even, as we already said, the authorisation of the UN Security Council, in order to topple Hussein, accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction; it was not true.
Sunni elite was excruciatingly ruling over Shiites majority, as main consequence of Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship. With the incoming American invasion Hussein’s Sunni elite saw the end with Iran supporting Shiites (indeed a Shiite government was established later on).
The American purpose to conquer the Iraqi territory was reached rapidly: by April all the Iraqi cities were under the control of the coalition and by May George Bush declared the American military operation in large scale concluded. After the American occupation, Iraq was severely opposed by several armed groups, to which where added acts of extreme violence, even more bloody, between the various Sunni and Shiite factions damaging, in first place, the civilian population. The Iraqi territory, as well as Afghanistan, remained under the control of international forces (mainly American ones), and still suffers due to the lack of a stable political structure. Indeed in Afghanistan Iraq and Pakistan, the offensive by radical Islamist groups has intensified. In this context, Iran proposes itself as the leading country in the fight against the western and American presence, often in competition with the holy war by Al Qaeda (Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was later killed in Pakistan in 2011, during an action carried out by the special forces of the US navy).
At the beginning of 2011, the new American President Barack Obama began the progressive withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, but leaving huge forces in the territory in order to protect the main US interests of the area.
The war in Iraq was characterised by some good intentions for sure: indeed, once captured and tried by an Iraqi court, sentenced to death for the crimes committed, primarily against the Curds, Saddam Hussein was executed on 30th December 2006.
However, after 17 years, we can surely affirm the Iraq war was extremely ruinous: even tough the brutality of Hussein’s regime, as we already said, was undeniable, the war was brought against an entire population that, after having enormously suffered , has seen its territory completely dismantled: indeed, the highest number of victims of the war has to be found among Iraqi civilians.
However, the importance of the second phase of American intervention in Iraq is far more vital than the collapse of the Baath regime, since if USA fails the establishment of a solid democratic government, this will lead to a negative precedent for American plan in the Middle East and above all, will negatively mark the fate of the Iraqi country. This new chapter counts a long succession of brutal episodes, wars and it ends up with the military occupation by United States, with the aim to establish in such countries democracies.
Indeed, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, we can clearly understand how easy the explosion of all those conflicts that had always characterised the Iraqi society, largely curbed by the violent repression imposed by the regime, could be.
The country, that faced 24 years of dictatorship, had to deal with the scarce ability of the American coalition forces to establish and guarantee a democratic and stable government; it ended up that United States felt unprepared for what they had previously planned.
About that, it’s important to stress, as key topic of this article, the fact that the coalition underrated several factors concerning the political, social and multicultural scenario that characterise the Iraqi territory. Indeed, after the long lived brutal regime, the Iraqi territory wasn’t able neither had the power to face the so called “Nation Building” and “State Formation”, especially when we should expect a vacuum power in such a difficult and transitional period with Hussein’s dictatorship being ousted from the political scene in Iraq.
Iraq can be considered as the “perfect example” of Western effort to create a State in the Middle East, confident of its mission and vision of modelling it as a Western State; unfortunately at the same time Iraq can be considered as well the disastrous result of a Superpower that acts unaware of the culture, needs and ambitions of such country.
To better understand the gravity of the American act, it’s important to recognise the main socio- political-religious conformation of the territory. Indeed, Iraq is divided into three different and opposite “socio-religious realities”: Curds (in the northern province of Iraq), Sunni (they used to be the aristocracy of Islam and when the State was created they became the leaders under the protection of UK and France) and Shiite (they represent the majority of the population, brutally persecuted during Hussein’s regime).
The American plan was to simply unify the three components in one state reaching, concerning their idea and project, a reality of auto conducted life. The ideal notion was that of “melting pot”. Here we are to the most incredible mistake: the conviction that conflicts would have been prevented thanks to the merger of these three realities into one single identity, with the errant belief that people could forget their own past and previous identity. The latter one, mainly made from time immemorial of bloody rivalry due to cultural divisions, was underrated and not taken into account at all; the outcome indeed were misery and agony of a failed state. Concerning this issue, what really permeated my interest the most was Galbraith’s point of view concerning the American ignorance and dangerous arrogance in the Bush administration: “… there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate in which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society. The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.”(1)
The aspect I think needs to be stressed the most is the huge offence and huge disrespect USA made to Iraq, not considering the past memory of this state as an amalgam of different opposite cultures; they tried to erase memories, not giving a proper and right weight and meaning to the whole cultural component that characterised Iraq, but following the Western ideology and forma mentis concerning their sense of nationalism; indeed principle like collective memory has to be considered as fundamental and vital factor for the identity of a country.
A bridge between cultures and civilisation must be built but providing simultaneously a mutual respect for the autonomy of the counterpart. American effort can be easily translated as a vision of imposing a reality that doesn’t fit with the past and moral structure of Iraqi territory; the result was that they tried to force the Iraqis to a condition that didn’t belong to their historical-cultural profile. The main cause has to be found in the American lack of awareness and sensitivity to mutually benefit through co-operation: in the most absolute way, there is the necessity to respect the otherness, conceived as diversity of traditions.
(1) Galbraith, Peter. The End Of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 84
- – https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/21/international/middleeast/nationbuilding-in-iraq-lessons- from-the-past.html
- – http://www.studiperlapace.it/view_news_html?news_id=20050220133426
- – https://www.ilpost.it/2011/10/07/dieci-anni-di-guerra-in-afghanistan-2/
- – Galbraith, Peter. The End Of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.
- – https://mepc.org/inventing-iraq-failure-nation-building-and-history-denied
- – https://www.union-communiste.org/it/2003-04/iraq-una-guerra-di-brigantaggio-imperialista-740