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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 18-Jun-2014
18-Jun-14 World View -- Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq

Web Log - June, 2014

18-Jun-14 World View -- Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq

Was the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq a mistake?

This morning's key headlines from

Iraq accuses of Saudi Arabia of sponsoring ISIS and 'genocide'

ISIS militants in Iraq (AFP)
ISIS militants in Iraq (AFP)

Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in the past has suggested that Saudi Arabia is supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but on Tuesday he used the strongest language ever:

"We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally and for its outcome - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites."

The Saudis vehemently deny this, but this is a sign of the gathering sectarian conflict in the Mideast. Reuters and NBC News

Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq

Many politicians and journalists are expressing concern about a possible "Sunni versus Shia civil war" within Iraq. This brings back memories of the 2004-2008 period, when the loony left, including NBC News and the NY Times, were using the threat of a civil war as a way of expressing contempt for President George Bush. Now they're talking about civil war again, but as a way of expressing sympathy for their beloved President Barack Obama.

As I wrote dozens of times during that period, Iraq was and is in a generational Awakening era, and so a civil war was and is impossible. In the 2004-2008 period, there was some violence between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, but in the end, the two groups cooperated in expelling al-Qaeda in Iraq via the "Anbar Awakening." I wrote about this in my lengthy April 2007 analysis, "Iraqi Sunnis are turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq", which was the best and most accurate analysis of the Iraq war from any media source at that time.

The key to understanding the relationships between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias is to look at their last two generational crisis wars, the 1920 Great Iraqi Revolution, in which the Iraqi Sunnis and Shias united against Britain, and the 1980s Iran/Iraq war, in which the Iraq Sunnis and Shias united against Iran. It's important to understand that the 1980s was was not a sectarian war between Shias and Sunnis; it was an ethnic war between Arabs and Persians. So it's not surprising that in 2007, Shias and Sunnis united again to expel al-Qaeda in Iraq in the Anbar Awakening.

There is SOME violence between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, but there's a huge difference between "some violence" and "full-scale civil war." A major turning point in the Iraq war occurred when al-Qaeda in Iraq bombed the Shiite al-Askariya shrine in Samarra in February, 2006. This inflamed the Shiites, who had previously been restrained, to the extent that they began launching death squads against the Sunni jihadists. However, by the beginning of 2007, that violence was tapering off.

This year's invasion of Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has, once again, triggered some sectarian violence between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias. However, in 2007, the sectarian violence was being driven by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the sectarian violence today is being driven by ISIS. Many Iraqi Sunnis have joined the foreign fighters in ISIS in this sectarian violence, but multiple reports indicate that the Iraqi Sunnis are fighting against the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, not against Shias in general.

According to reports, the foreign fighters in ISIS are attempting to impose strict Sharia law on Mosul and other captured cities. My guess is that the Iraqi citizens are not going to like this.

Iraq in the 1930s generational Awakening era

If you want to understand Iraq today, a good place to start is in Iraq's previous generational Awakening era, the 1930s, following the 1920 Great Iraqi Revolution. In my 2007 article, referenced above, I quoted at length from the Library of Congress history of Iraq during that period. It's well worthwhile to read that entire history, but here I'll only quote a couple of excerpts.

First, here's what happened during the 1920 crisis war, which was a rebellion against British rule:

"Ath Thawra al Iraqiyya al Kubra, or The Great Iraqi Revolution (as the 1920 rebellion is called), was a watershed event in contemporary Iraqi history. For the first time, Sunnis and Shias, tribes and cities, were brought together in a common effort. In the opinion of Hanna Batatu, author of a seminal work on Iraq, the building of a nation-state in Iraq depended upon two major factors: the integration of Shias and Sunnis into the new body politic and the successful resolution of the age-old conflicts between the tribes and the riverine cities and among the tribes themselves over the food-producing flatlands of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The 1920 rebellion brought these groups together, if only briefly; this constituted an important first step in the long and arduous process of forging a nation-state out of Iraq's conflict-ridden social structure."

Next, here's what happened during Iraq's generational Awakening era in the 1930s:

"On October 13, 1932, Iraq became a sovereign state, and it was admitted to the League of Nations. Iraq still was beset by a complex web of social, economic, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts, all of which retarded the process of state formation. The declaration of statehood and the imposition of fixed boundaries triggered an intense competition for power in the new entity. Sunnis and Shias, cities and tribes, shaykhs and tribesmen, Assyrians and Kurds, pan-Arabists and Iraqi nationalists--all fought vigorously for places in the emerging state structure. Ultimately, lacking legitimacy and unable to establish deep roots, the British-imposed political system was overwhelmed by these conflicting demands."

This is a pattern that Iraq follows: During generational crisis wars, when the survival of the nation and its way of life is at stake, the Sunnis and Shias unite, and nationalism trumps sectarianism. (Think of America in World War II.)

But during the political battles in the decades that follow the war (think of America in the 1960s), sectarianism trumps nationalism, and the country splits into sectarian and ethnic political battles.

That pattern is being repeated today. Iraqi Sunnis and Shias have many bitter disagreements, but they unite when they have to.

The next steps for Iraq

Based on the above analysis, here's what I conclude:

In a sense, the sectarian war in Iraq is still a side show. The real war continues in Syria, and the sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias throughout the Mideast will be the real war.

Was the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq a mistake?

There's a lot of talk about who's to blame - Bush or Obama - for the current debacle in Iraq. So to start with, let's point out that the war in Iraq didn't begin in 2003. It began in 1991. And the Bill Clinton administration had several major and highly visible run-ins with Saddam Hussein over the latter's refusal to allow inspections for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The Clinton administration was bombing Iraq almost daily when Bush came into office.

The 2003 ground invasion did not occur because we felt bad for the 75,000 or so Iraqis that Saddam was killing every year. It occurred because of a nationwide -- indeed, worldwide -- panic over Saddam's WMDs. He had used them against Iran in 1988, and he had refused United Nations inspections to determine whether he was still manufacturing them, which only increased the sense of panic.

Some people like to point out that France's prime minister, Jacques Chirac, said that Saddam had no WMDs. It's hard to understand how he would know that, especially since there was some evidence that Saddam himself didn't know he no longer had any stores of WMDs. But later investigations revealed what was going on with Chirac.

Jacques Chirac, Russia's president Vladimir Putin, and U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan were all implicated in skimming hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraq's "Oil for Food" program. This was discovered when a list of the corrupt officials was found in Iraq's Oil Ministry after the war. In other words, Chirac, Putin and Annan didn't care how many people were slaughtered by Saddam's WMDs; the three of them were just cheap crooks that didn't want their corruption to be discovered, no matter how many people were killed.

Finally, would have happened without the 2003 ground invasion? Former British prime minister Tony Blair recently pointed out that Saddam would also have been subjected to the 2011 Arab Awakening, like all the other dictators in the region, and that the current turmoil would have occurred anyway. But that isn't the worst of it.

Iran had already been victimized by Saddam's WMDs. If the U.S. had simply backed out and let Saddam do what he wanted, then Iran would have continued to believe that Saddam had stores of WMDs. Iran would have sped up its nuclear bomb development program, and probably would have developed chemical and biological weapons themselves. In that case, within a few years, we would have had Syria, Iraq, and Iran, all possessing weapons of mass destruction, and ready to use them.

So, whether you like the 2003 ground invasion or not, things would have been MUCH worse without it.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 18-Jun-14 World View -- Generational Dynamics historical analysis of the violence in Iraq thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (18-Jun-2014) Permanent Link
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