Iraq Under Saddam Hussein-the First War-UN Sanctions-the Second War-The New Iraq
In the 1970s and 1980s, under Saddam Hussein, Iraq boasted one of the highest standards of living and most educated and skilled populations in the Arab world.
After the First Gulf War in 1991, the quality of life deteriorated markedly and worsened throughout the UN sanctions period. The war dealt a severe blow to the country’s infrastructure, with enormously detrimental effects on public health: hospitals were forced to accommodate heavy patient loads, major cities lacked electricity for weeks on end, and communications systems and water purification systems were destroyed Throughout the 1990s, UN sanctions further eroded the medical system and led to severe shortages of basic goods.
The U.S. invasion and subsequent developments in Iraqi politics brought about an increasing fragmentation of social and political life along sectarian lines, rampant corruption, further breakdown of public services and declining well being in the population.
The root cause therefore of the poor quality of democratic governance in Iraq was a lack of inclusion in the post-invasion state-building process. Beginning in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the processes that generated the new constitution and governing institutions were flawed. The rushed effort, (forced through by the USA) to draft the new Iraq Constitution excluded key stakeholders, most notably representatives from Iraq’s Sunni Arab population.
The new constitution was approved in 2005 in a national referendum, despite continued Sunni Arab opposition. Since the drafting of the constitution, Sunni Arabs continued to feel excluded from the new Iraq. Then came the breakthrough. In late 2009, (following protracted discussions) a group of Sunni’s, led by Mr al-Hashemi agreed to join the coalition. A decision greatly welcomed by the USA.
Not long after, at the time of compiling electoral lists, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice announced, just before the 2010 election that hundreds of candidates were to be banned, for a number of reasons, from standing for election. lists of excluded candidates included many more Sunni’s than those of other sects, further enhancing fear and anger among Sunni’s that they had been sold out.
The move, perceived as gerrymandering by many Sunni voters, backfired on the authoritarian and unpopular, State of law Coalition government, since it simply garnered support for Mr al-Hashemi, a Sunni and leader of the Iraqiyya List coalition. Iraqis in Fallujah, the West and North of the country voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Iraqiyya List coalition, which ended up as the largest single party, (by 2 seats).
Following many rounds of discussions a government was formed, to be led by Mr Nuri al-malaki, a shi’a who had led the first government in the New Iraq. Mr al-Hashemi, (leading the al-Iraqiya List), the largest political group was appointed to the post of Vice President.
The new government soon fell apart, mainly due to the insistence of the Prime Minister Mr Nuri al-malaki that he would exercise direct control over just about all aspects of power in the country, including the military. The opposition parties fell into disarray and back-stabbing under the onslaught.
Then in May 2011 arrest warrants, alleging murder and other charges were issued against the Vice President al-Hashemi who, avoiding arrest, escaped to Turkey. He was subsequently found guilty, in a show trial, of all charges and sentenced to death, (in his absence).
Ankara, Turkey; Exiled Iraqi Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi announcing his official resignation from post stated, “My post doesn’t have any value any more, Iraq’s political process is stuck in the mud by a man by the name of Nouri Maliki”. He went on to give his backing to Sunni opposition, in Anbar province against Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
Sunni Arabs protested against the President throughout January 2013 calling for him to resign his office in favour of a more unifying person. In recent days tensions and protests against Maliki have engulfed the western province of Anbar after Iraqi authorities arrested Iraqi Sunni MP Ahmed Alwani and murdered his brother on charges of helping Sunni militants.
The New Iraq- A Success or a Failure?
The new, democratic Iraq is plagued by rampant corruption with bribes, kickbacks and embezzlement a routine part of politics and everyday life. In 2012, Transparency International ranked Iraq as the 8th most corrupt country in the world.
Furthermore, civil liberties are increasingly under threat, even if Iraqis enjoy far more freedom. Independent journalists are targeted for their coverage of anti-government protests and the government routinely fails to enforce laws designed to protect the media. In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government uses draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators and journalists
Sectarianism characterizes political and social life, a trend that dates back to many centuries. But the new Iraq is not supposed to allocate political offices according to sect. Rather, the new Iraqi political system of selecting leaders is based on negotiation among the winners of national parliamentary elections.
In practice, however, key offices are still distributed by sect and the largest communal group in the country garnered the largest number of votes, enabling them to claim the most powerful position, the office of the Prime Minister. Whilst the Kurd’s took the presidency. The trend towards political sectarianism, however, should not suggest that sectarian identity explains all politics in contemporary Iraq.
By a basic definition, Iraq is a democracy but the formal institutions of democracy, however, do not entail more than a minimum of democratic rights and they have not guaranteed tangible improvements in the lives of citizens. Nonetheless, the case of Iraq shows that the quality of democratic governance can be very poor, even after the institutionalization of formal democracy. Indeed, Prime Minister al-Maliki alienated Iraqis from all sects not just Sunnis for reneging on promises to form a unity government.
Introduction of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
At the start of the Northern Iraq offensive, beginning in June 2014, the, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) vowed to take power over the state of Iraq away from al-Maliki. In response he called upon Kurdish forces to help keep Northern Iraq out of the hands of (ISIS), he also requested and was refused air support from American drones in order to eliminate dangerous jihadist elements in the country. The US position was that the United States was not actively considering using warplanes or armed drones to strike jihadist havens.
During the crisis, al-Maliki became the main target of a propaganda campaign by (ISIS), which made clear the group’s disdain calling him an, “underwear salesman,” stating he “lost a historic opportunity for your people to control Iraq, and the Shiites will always curse you for as long as they live.”
Prime Minister Nuri al-malaki resigned his office in August 2014, following months of pressure from the USA and a collapse of support in the Iraqi parliament.
The newly appointed Prime Minister, Mr Haider al-Ibadi (approved by Iran and the USA), is, not surprisingly a Shia and a member of the same political party as his predecessor. It is of the utmost importance therefore that the leaders of the two key ministries of Defence and the Interior, (presently vacant) be taken up by Sunni’s.
Allowing the return of former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, (who remains in exile in Turkey) to take up one of the posts would be major coup for the Sunni’s who would readily rally to his leadership and allow an early formation of an inclusive government, sealing an early defeat of ISIS who would retreat back to Northern Syria where they would be dealt with by the Assad forces.
The Formation of a truly national government would be one that honestly ensures the on-going needs and desires of all sects are met, thereby bringing about a feeling that all members of society are pulling together in the same direction.
Easy Ask-So what can possibly go wrong?
Shia’s refuse to share power with any competent Sunni capable of exercising any measure of real authority over their sect. would leave the West and North of Iraq at the mercy of ISIS and may well result in an invasion, (by invitation of the US) by Turkish ground forces from the North.
What Turkey fears most is a powerful Kurdish state on the disputed border with Kurdistan/Iraq adding to continuing internal strife in the south of the country. They are also wary any major supply of arms to the Kurds by the US might encourage them to get involved in the north of Syria bringing about the overthrow of Assad which would result in an extension of the troubled border further to the West.
Repeated showing in the media of, “war porn” i.e. destruction, (using a missile costing £500,000) to destroy a Toyota pick-up or enemy machine gun post. This is an early indication that ISIS is operating, “Apache Indian” tactics. Melting away, in small groups before the onslaught of the major air-power of the Coalition. In this case the air war would be considered a failure and ground troops would need to be introduced.
Any further major setbacks for Iraqi forces to the West and North of the country could be catastrophic for the state of Iraq.
The continuing dominance in Baghdad and areas to the South of large groups of Sh’ia militia acting, often at odds with the regular army is counter productive.
Any move, on the part of the US to base air power in Iraq would be seen as a breech of trust between Iran and the US.
Any increase in air attacks by the coalition near to Baghdad and/or any incidents of collateral damage would be a setback.
Any involvement, tacit or otherwise, on the part of other Arab states, either in Iraq or Syria would result in a widening of the conflict.
What About Iran?
Iran exercises great influence over the Shia’s in Iraq and as such it is central to any final settlement of conflict in Iraq and Syria. The active support of Assad in Syria is overt, resolute and includes a regular supply of weapons and manpower, usually achieved by overflying Iraq. So the airspace is getting a bit cluttered.
It might well be Syria will end up being partitioned, the northern half being administered by Turkey but there are many other conflicting outcomes.
So where do we go from here?
The coalition would do well to maintain an air presence in the north of Iraq. Monitoring, but not getting involved in petty attacks, leaving ground forces to sort out their differences.
Hopefully the Iraqi’s will agree new ways of working so that they will be able to deal with the ISIS problem themselves.
The coalition should not become involved in any pursuit of ISIS in Syria. Assad and the Iranians are well capable of sorting ISIS and any other groups out themselves.
Funding should be provided to Turkey through the UN so that they will be able to maintain safe havens for refugees.
Demography of Syria
Shiites worldwide are mainly supported and funded, where needed by Iran. Sunni Islam is the largest sect of Islam in the world, and is supported through Saudi Arabian efforts.
The Shiites (about 14% of the population) are viewed as heretics by many Sunni Islamists, and this guarantee’s Assad the support of Shias in Syria who fear, (with justification) a genocide should Sunni’s (about 68% of the population) ever gained power.
It is no surprise therefore that Syrian Sunni’s provide unqualified support to the rebel forces reflecting the hostility directed at Assad’s minority Shia Muslim government.
The Kurds are spread along the northern border of Syria and Iraq. They comprise about 10% of the Syrian population. Within Syria and Iraq they have largely been afforded a large measure of autonomy within the government’s of both countries. Whilst the “civil war” has presented opportunities for the Kurds to join forces and create a new Kurdistan they have avoided the pitfalls of embarking on a dearly loved path of self governance in preference to attacking ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq.
Kurdish independence aspirations can only be deferred and at some future time in the near future the UN will need to give precedence to the Kurds and their passionate wish to become an independent nation. Assad is very likely to give support to the creation of a Kurdish state along the border with Turkey since this would establish a border/buffer. Assad has no love for Turkey which in turn would be vehemently against the creation of an independent Kurdistan since there is a very large Kurdish population in Turkey which has been brutally suppressed for many years.
The Druze, (who make up about 3% of the population) are regarded by all sides as a bit weird and friendless. They live in close, often isolated communities and are treated badly by Muslims, of all sects.
The Assyrians, descendants of one of the oldest civilisations in the world (make up around 4% of the population) Assyrians are Christians and as such have been attacked by the varying Islamist sects in the course of the war. Their loyalties are split between Assad and the Kurds.
The Syrian Turkmen (make up about 1% of the population). The occupy an enclave in the North of Syria. They speak Turkish and enjoy full Turkish support. Effectively the area is Turkish but perhaps recognising their position is tenuous they are extremely militant in the protection of their identity. They are anti Assad and just about any other group/sect.
March 2011: Clinton’s kiss of death – USA and Syria foreign relations
Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on Bashar al-Assad, 27 March 2011: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”
May 2011: Syrian Insurrection
I advised previously that the West (USA, France, UK etc.) should restrict military actions against ISIS to those units operating in Iraq, allowing Assad, assisted by the Iranians to deal with any ISIS challenge to the state of Syria.
A few short months later the USA and some other coalition members expanded their attacks on ISIS to include Syria. The war of attrition against ISIS became hopelessly confused, which soon exposed the hypocrisy of Obama and Clinton who decided that “Regime Change” mirroring the brutal removal of Gaddafi in Libya would be to the benefit of Syrians and the free world.
President Assad and the predominant Alawite Shia Muslim ruling class, (which have retained control over almost all aspects of the government since 1971) chose to fight.
Regardless of the high risk of civilian casualties, the USA created, armed and provided extensive military support to a number of “fifth columnist” type militias gathered from a number of sects opposed to the Syrian government, (including air cover and special forces on the ground in Syria).
December 2012: Assad, at the end of another day of intense fighting is Syria under pressure, from rebel groups, the USA and UK to step down. Assad’s allies, (Russian and Iranian Foreign Ministers) meet in Moscow to discuss the crisis.
March 2014: The Israeli air-force launched air-strikes against Syrian Army positions in the Golan Heights claiming it was in retaliation for an attack against Israeli forces the day before. Tension in the disputed Golan Heights has increased recently and the exchange of fire was the heaviest since the Civil War in Syria started.
April 2014: President Assad praised a visiting Russian delegation thanking them for the assistance Russia is providing Syria in it’s time of need. President Putin advised Assad of Russia’s pledge to support Syria during its “war against international terrorism,” which is also being supported by some Western and regional countries
October 2015: Golan Heights oil discovery. Reports of a huge Golan Heights oil discovery played down by Israeli press. It is confirmed however that a robust oil-bearing strata has been identified but more tests will need to be completed to establish if hydrocarbons are extractable and usable. ‘
May 2016: As the centennial of the Sykes-Picot Agreement looms, the deal whereby Britain and France carved up the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, world powers should sign the agreement’s death warrant rather than continue to dress up and parade its corpse.
Everywhere in the Middle East, borders are being redrawn in blood. Now is the time for international efforts to focus on doing what is possible to craft this cartography. A good start would be international recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
May 2016: The conflict in Syria is not between the regime and it’s rebels. Early on it looked like a revolution similar to that which occurred in Egypt and Tunisia. But the conflict in Syria is now much more complicated. Foreign powers have turned the situation from a public uprising into a bloodbath. It is no longer about replacing one regime with another – it’s a fight for existence.
May 2016: Foreign diplomats from many of the world’s nations held a summit to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria with the expectation that a failing peace accord could be rescued. The main power brokers; Russia, USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UK, France and a number of other European countries were in attendance. But, presented with the usual impasse, even after nearly 5 years of brutality resulting in excess of 400,000 Syrians there was no way forward.
May 2016: The war against ISIS and President Assad and Syria provides opportunity to review strategies used by the US and Russia. It reveals worrying patterns last witnessed at the time of the Cold War.
May 2016: Reinforcing Israel’s off stated claim to a part of Syria. Netanyahu stated “Israel will never give up the Golan Heights. Damascus had the region for 19 years, but we’ve had it for 49.” The response from Syria’s Foreign Minister was swift and direct. He said “We’re ready to retake the area by force. Syria is prepared to use military means to recapture the Golan Heights.”
May 2016: The USA assisted by the UK has been fighting wars in the Middle East for 15 years. The cost of conducting campaigns has cost the long suffering taxpayers in excess of $2trillion. The wars, with radical Islamist factions has not been won. Governments deny the public the truth with result that the wars will probably continue for decades.
May 2016: Dennis Ross, a veteran diplomat recently said “I worked Barack Obama and he has made a “conscious decision to try to distance [himself and his administration] from Israel. He went on to say “the White House has worked under the assumption that “Israel is more of a problem than it is a partner.”
September 2016: The U.S. military admitted it had unintentionally struck Syrian troops while carrying out a raid against the Islamic State group. They said the strike had been halted “when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”
The Syrian military said the air-strike hit a base that is surrounded by IS, allowing the extremists to advance. Russia’s military said it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 soldiers had been killed and more than 100 wounded. The strike could deal a crushing blow to a fragile U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire that has largely held for five days despite dozens of alleged violations on both sides. The cease-fire, which does not apply to attacks on IS took effect on Monday, and despite reports of violations, it has largely held. However, aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo — a key component of the deal.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned the U.S. commitment to the cease-fire, suggesting that Washington wasn’t prepared to break with “terrorist elements” battling Assad’s forces.
Russia has also accused Washington of failing to rein in the rebels, and on Saturday Putin asked why the United States has insisted on not releasing a written copy of the agreement.
“This comes from the problems the U.S. is facing on the Syrian track — they still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements,” Putin said during a trip to Kyrgyzstan. “In my opinion, this comes from the desire to keep the combat potential in fighting the legitimate government of Bashar Assad. But this is a very dangerous route.”
He appeared to be referring to the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, which is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups. Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the leader of the group, condemned the cease-fire agreement.
September 2016: On September 19, the US reported in breech of a peace deal that a convoy of trucks delivering aid to a rebel-held area of Aleppo had been attacked from the air. Anti-Assad government activists were emphatic the helicopters had dropped barrel bombs, followed by fighter jet strikes, which also used cluster bombs and-or machine gunned the area, keeping rebel help at bay so more witnesses would bleed to death. A video, submitted to the media by the US in support of the alleged attack showed trucks damaged by small-scale shrapnel (and/or bullets?) and gutted by fire It seemed to be consistent with the assertion, but it was unclear.
But Russia, which denied it’s aircraft or those of its Syrian government allies were involved, said it believed the convoy had not been struck from the air at all but had caught fire because of some incident on the ground.
It transpired that the US funded “White Helmets” had been involved in setting up the incident. See: http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/21/false-flag-us-nato-and-rebel-coalition-appear-to-have-fabricated-un-convoy-evidence/
October 2016: Aleppo: It may take some weeks but Aleppo will fall to Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power. Capturing the strategically important city, which is key to controlling Syria’s Northwest, will be an important military triumph for President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. But it will be a crippling setback for the Western-backed Syrian rebels who, without quick reinforcements from their foreign backers, will be forced out of their stronghold.
Russia says it is targeting the Al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch changed its name in July 2016 stating it had cut ties with the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
October 2016: U.N. envoy De Mistura has urged Moscow and Damascus to accept a deal under which the fighters around 1,000 members of the hard-line Islamist group Nusra would leave the city, while other insurgents and civilians would be allowed to remain. He offered to lead them out of the city himself to guarantee their safety.
It was put to De Mistura that his proposal getting the fighters out of Aleppo would make it easier for Syrian forces to take the city if their most effective opponents were removed, the official replied: “potentially.” Russia accused the United States of failing to ensure that other rebels separated themselves from Al-Nusra, which Moscow and Washington both regard as a terrorist group excluded from the ceasefire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Paris on Oct. 19 to discuss Syria with his French counterpart Francois Hollande, the only diplomatic track still active over efforts to bring peace to the country.
President Assad, in an interview on Swedish television accused Washington of using al-Nusra as a proxy, and said this was why the ceasefire had collapsed. “It’s an American card. Without al-Nusra, the Americans cannot have any real, let’s say, concrete and effective card in the Syrian arena,” he said.
October 2016: The Syrian army has been greatly strengthened through the addition of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It is now a formidable fighting force and is well placed to win the war against rebel groups before the year end. What comes next?
Russia and Iran have proved to be unshakable in their support of Syria and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Recovery of any part of Syria not under the control of President Assad and the Syrian government would be given top priority.
The Golan Heights, illegally occupied for many years by Israel is very likely to be targetted by Assad, supported by his allies and this is a potentially catastrophic event since any involvement of Russian forces against the Israelis in support of Syria would bring about a confrontation with the USA.