Our Media Just Doesn’t Get It
The situation in Iraq is changing daily—and it may be hard to separate the spin from the facts. Currently, 275 American troops have been deployed to Iraq as a Sunni militancy has overtaken large parts of the country, challenging the U.S.-backed Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But, in order to make informed decisions for the future, we must look at the historical context. We hope this post helps to fill in the gaps between what you’re hearing in the news, and the reality of a complicated situation.
“The moment we leave Iraq, conflict springs up again. We should never have left.”
This conflict between the Sunni militant groups and the Shiite Iraqi government is rooted in the way the United States picked winners and losers in Iraq during the 2003 occupation, which displaced millions of Iraqis:
- The United States prohibited the Sunni-dominated Baath Party from participating in the post-Saddam government, instead backing the Shiite party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
- Sunnis, who were in power prior to the 2003 U.S. occupation, have faced ongoing repression from Prime Minister Maliki, who, according to Mother Jones: “treated the Sunni areas of Iraq as enemy territory and refused to share power with Sunnis—stoking the deep-seated tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.”
“A resurgent al Qaeda presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America.”
—Dick and Liz Cheney
- Prior to the United States invasion, there was no dormant al-Qaeda cell in Iraq. Al-Qaeda was able to recruit Iraqis following the displacement of millions due to the United States occupation.
Former U.N.-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told Democracy Now!: “The ancestor of ISIS was created as a direct consequence of the invasion of Iraq.”
- Brahimi also told Democracy Now!: “Terrorism was sucked in, brought in, by—as a direct consequence of the [U.S.-led] invasion. And it flourished, first of all, in Iraq, and then it went to Syria, and now it is back in Iraq.”
“The US should intervene with air power against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Even the Iraqi government is now asking for air strikes.”
- Because ISIS has no obvious targets, drone strikes would kill civilians, and invite additional terrorism against the United States.
- “In addition to causing unnecessary suffering and death, the likely result of a U.S. bombing campaign would be a propaganda victory for ISIS and a backlash against the United States in Iraq and the region.” —William Hartung in “Five Reasons to Stay Out of Iraq”
- The Iraqi government is requesting these strikes because the Sunni militants are seeking to overturn their regime.
- Maliki’s requests for air strikes isn’t new—the NYTimes reports they also asked for strikes last month.
This is a conflict between the Iraqi government and ISIS: a radical, militant “terrorist” group.
- In many ways, the Iraqi military is itself a Shiite militia – just a bigger militia with better uniforms and more U.S.-provided guns
- The focus on ISIS exists because it’s an easy narrative and a good story. But there are many groups involved in the uprising other than ISIS, including (1) tribal leaders, (2) former Iraqi officials from the Saddam Hussein government, and (3) ordinary Sunnis engaging in resistance (such as those who set up a protest camp in Ramadi, a camp the Iraqi military dismantled in December, resulting in 10 deaths).
How Does Iran and Saudi Arabia fit into all of this?
- Saudi Arabia is Sunni-led.
- Iran is Shiite-led.
- Democracy Now! reports: “Many analysts say the fighting in Iraq has become a proxy war between the Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran.”
- Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has vowed on live television to protect Shiite shrines in Iraq.
What Can Be Done?
- Reject more U.S. military intervention, which would increase violence.
- Publicly support a comprehensive political settlement between the key parties to the conflict, inside and outside of Iraq.
- Halt unconditional military aid to Iraq. Iraq’s security forces have functioned as sectarian militias that have committed rampant human rights abuses. More unconditional military aid for any of the warring parties to the conflict will only fuel lead to more violence.
- Convene a conference to establish a comprehensive arms embargo to Iraq and Syria. The U.S. should call for, support and offer its good offices to convene a conference that includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries sending weapons to armed opposition groups in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has seized control of U.S. weapons provided both to Iraqi security forces and to armed opposition groups in Syria, highlighting the need for an arms embargo in both Iraq and Syria.
- Increase and better allocate humanitarian funds to address humanitarian crisis. Decades of U.S. sanctions and military intervention have led to the displacement, injury, and deaths of millions of Iraqis. If the basic needs of Iraqis are left unattended, this will only serve to further destabilize Iraq and embolden extremist groups like ISIS.
If I am Opposed to U.S. Intervention in Iraq, what can I do?
Just Foreign Policy has a script you can use to call your Representative and tell them No New U.S. War in Iraq or Syria: http://justforeignpolicy.org/act/iraq-call-in