The Mess in Iraq


Back in November 2003 President George W. Bush told the country that the invasion of Iraq was the part of an effort to “spread democracy throughout the Middle East.” Initially, of course, the president had declared that the U.S. attacked Iraq to fight terrorists who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This specific claim could be fact-checked and indeed it was. Bush’s claims, both about terrorists in Iraq and WMDs, turned out to be false. The follow-up claim about spreading democracy could not be fact-checked. We can’t even be sure if Bush and his neoconservative allies themselves believed in this radical goal of spreading democracy by the sword. Given that most of the regimes the U.S. has backed in the Middle East, including at one time that of Saddam Hussein, were autocracies of one sort or another, one can legitimately have doubts.

However, one thing we can be sure of – the Americans are not the only ones who can launch a crusade based on an age-old idea. Islamic radicals, who may think they are replicating the spread of Islam as it took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, can do it too. And, thanks to the George W. Bush, who opened the floodgates for them, these Islamist radicals are doing just that.

Saddam Hussein’s Culpability

Bush and the neocons could not have created today’s disastrous dilemma in Iraq all by themselves. There had to be preconditions, and for those we can look to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the Sunni-Shiite divide he encouraged to further his power.

Worldwide, the Sunni sect of Islam is the majority one. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. However, in Iraq the opposite is the case.  Only 9 percent of the Iraqi population are Sunni. The rest are mostly Shiites. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein was of Sunni background and under his rule the Shiite majority was not trusted and often discriminated against, and their leaders were killed if they showed any signs of political resistance.

The hatred that built up among the Shiites during this period of dictatorial rule came to the surface with the American invasion. Shiite leaders now took over and, with American compliance, turned on the Iraqi Sunnis. That helped spark a civil war that goes on to this day. The present Iraqi government’s anti-Sunni policies are, of course, very unwise, but they are not unexpected, nor are they unpopular among the Iraqi Shiites.

In the current outbreak of violence, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the name of the radical fundamentalist group that has invaded Iraq from Eastern Syria and recently captured the city of Mosul, is also Sunni. My guess is that its commanders imagine they are acting in the tradition of the first Caliphs – God-approved and -inspired. Thus, the nom de guerre taken by the present ISIS leader is Jihadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Abu Bakr was the Muslim world’s first Caliph).

Current Problems

The U.S. now has two problems when it comes to Iraq: one is how to respond to the ISIS invasion. The other is how to face up to American culpability for the mess in Iraq.

Regarding the first, President Obama has announced that American ground troops will not go back into Iraq except to protect the U.S. embassy. As a consequence it is more likely that Iraq will find substantial assistance from Tehran than Washington. Nonetheless, this is a wise decision. Obama has also urged a political solution. It is hard to know what that means when it comes to the ISIS – like hard-core ideologues of all stripes, they are not compromising types. Probably Obama is trying to pressure the Iraqi government to make amends with its Sunni citizens. That is a very good idea. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is the key to the defeat of ISIS and the country’s future stability.

Then, there is the second matter: how do we face up to American culpability? Pointing fingers at the current president might be politically convenient for repugnant Republicans and neocons, but it is thoroughly ahistorical. The Republican charge is based on the notion that Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq too quickly. The Iraqi army wasn’t ready to stand on its own and we abandoned them.

The charge is simply wrong. The Iraqi parliament itself had voted against allowing American troops to stay in the country beyond the end of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. Obama wanted to leave a contingent of U.S. advisers in Iraq but decided against it when the Iraqi government refused to grant the advisers legal immunity. There was also the fact that the U.S. withdrawal came as a response to the will of the majority of the American people.

The fact that the Iraqi armed forces were not in good shape at the time of withdrawal was not Obama’s fault. After all the U.S. military, its trainers and advisers, had been in Iraq for years under the Bush administration. And, it can be argued that even if U.S. advisers had stayed during Obama’s time in office it would have made no difference. Take, for instance, the case of Iran under the Shah. From 1954 to 1979 the U.S. supplied and trained the Shah’s military forces. In 1979 that military force collapsed almost immediately in the face of popular revolution.

For U.S. forces to stay in control of Iraq until the indigenous military were professionally capable was to commit to decades of occupation – a scenario unpopular both in Iraq and the U.S. Even then the issue would be in doubt if the political context undermined Iraqi military morale and loyalty to the government. The political situation is key in these matters.

War Criminals 

If you want to look for those Americans who have real responsibility for this mess you have to go to those who put American troops in Iraq in the first place. You have to turn to George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies. They are the latest in a long line of American militants who think, much as does ISIS, that they have a mission to set the world straight according to a God-approved plan. Those are the less than brilliant minds who concocted the destruction of Iraq and left it in shambles.

Former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of what he now claims was faulty intelligence. But this is disingenuous. He himself insisted upon and then arranged for that faulty information – a fact now conveniently forgotten by himself, his neocon allies, and the media. As usual, the only way the Republicans can blame their opponent – Obama – is by maintaining a purposeful ignorance of past events.

The truth is that George W. Bush and his accomplices are war criminals chargeable with the same indictment brought against the German and Japanese leaders after World War II. I am not talking about genocide, as that was not the charge against these leaders. I am talking about the waging of unnecessary and offensive war – launching an invasion without proper legal cause. Today’s mess in Iraq is a direct consequence of that same sort of criminal act.

If you want to blame President Obama and his cohort for something, blame them for letting his criminal predecessor off the hook. No doubt Obama’s advisers told him that all presidents commit acts that may be criminal in nature and to indict Bush and his team was to set a precedent that might eventually turn around and be applied to Obama himself.

Thus, after a meaningless statement about “no one being above the law,” Obama decided not to pursue a criminal investigation into the murderous operations of George W. Bush and the neocons. “I … have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. …I don’t want them [government officials] to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.”

The problem is that “looking forward” only works if you take the past seriously. And in Iraq you can’t understand either the disastrous present or the likely horrid future without acknowledging the past actions the Bush administration. At the very least the media – those responsible for informing the American people of what is going on in the world – might realize this, stop castigating Obama and start telling the unvarnished truth about George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies – the men and women who really brought you the current mess in Iraq.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA.


Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?