Iraq and the Western military meddlers

After decade of turmoil caused by Iraq invasion, interventionists call for more airstrikes to solve current crisis.

Iraqi army troops chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [AFP]

It seems there is no limit to an interventionist’s capacity for self-delusion over the Middle East. As Iraqis are caught in an escalating crisis of utter terror, turmoil and devastation unleashed as a direct consequence of the US-led invasion of 2003, some neo-cons and unabashed British Blairites are now suggesting that more US-led military action might help. In other words – and to paraphrase Michael Franti‘s Spearhead – having bombed Iraq into pieces, the idea is that we can now somehow bomb it back into peace.

The past week has seen the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – an al-Qaeda spawned group so brutal that even al-Qaeda doesn’t want to be associated with it – take over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, loot $400m from banks and seize a stockpile of US-supplied weapons abandoned by a rapidly retreating Iraqi army. Half a million people fled Mosul, terrified not just of the throat-slitting ISIL extremists, but also potentially brutal reprisals and airstrikes from the Iraqi government. 

In reaction to this escalating horror, on one side of the Atlantic we have Senator John McCain berating President Barack Obama for pulling US troops out of Iraq and a line-up of other Republicans, urging that he put them back – in the air or on the ground. Senator Linsey Graham said: “There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American air power.”

A US comeback?

And the former US ambassador in Iraq, James Jeffrey, says that what’s needed right now is “for the Americans to come in in a big way, not on the ground but in the air”.

Meanwhile, Britain’s 2003-war-mongering ex-prime minister Tony Blair is sticking to the line that his illegal, unnecessary war in Iraq is not the cause of the misery, deaths and despair since and that somehow things could have been even worse without this invasion – and that what the country needs now is more military intervention. His former political advisor says that Western troops left Iraq prematurely and now must return to “rescue democracy”.

The reality is that, in the aftermath of the illegal 2003 invasion, coalition forces pretty much ran the textbook of how to turn a functional nation into a terrorised and devastated failed state.

This position conveniently leapfrogs over small details, such as the Iraqi people and government’s explicit rejection of any idea of retaining Western troops, while popular opinion in both the UK and US overwhelmingly favoured a withdrawal. But it also clings to the astounding delusion that that invasion of Iraq ever brought democracy to the region in the first place.

The reality is that, in the aftermath of the illegal 2003 invasion, coalition forces pretty much ran the textbook of how to turn a functional nation into a terrorised and devastated failed state.

With utter disregard for the consequences for Iraqis, this US-led coalition dismantled the state, gutted political and military institutions and dissolved the army, police and security apparatus.

And, as if the goal was actively to hobble the nation (“liberation” and “democracy” in the interventionist dictionary), this coalition then set about marginalising Iraqi Sunnis, thereby fomenting sectarianism and instability.

The US-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki only made things worse, pursuing corrupt, authoritarian and openly divisive policies – buying the loyalty of his own people and bullying everybody else.

But adopting the standard practice in the Middle East of backing a stability-bringing strongman regardless of his repellent policies towards his own people, the US continued to support Maliki, throwing huge sums of money at him.

That an extremist group such as ISIL is now so frighteningly exploiting the lawlessness and chaos unleashed by the 2003 invasion is an unintended consequence that was predicted even back at the time of the US-led war on Iraq. For years, as Iraq’s unbearable death toll keeps rising, analysts have warned of the terrible sectarianism pursued by West-sanctioned leaders in the post-invasion political vacuum in Iraq.

Speedy conquests

The speed of ISIL’s currents conquests was certainly a surprise – but for months, there have been increasingly urgent warnings about such potential scenarios in the context of politically-stoked instability, despair and disillusion in Iraq.

And yet now, amid a flood of erroneous media talk of Iraq somehow being historically sectarian and hopeless and a bit of a non-state to begin with, a spate of Western meddlers are urging that we “do something” in Iraq. 

As if backing the catastrophic leadership of Maliki while supporting a rebellion that empowered and emboldened Iraqi-border-crossing extremists in Syria is the equivalent of doing nothing at all, the interventionists want the West to take even more action in the form of airstrikes over Iraq.

And today, just as in 2003, there is no follow-through to these military suggestions. What would happen after any such airstrikes – even assuming these strikes were miraculously well targeted and effective? After years of precipitating insurgency, would Western military action suddenly have the reverse effect? Would ISIL then wave white flags instead of black and slink away, never to return? Has such a tactic sustainably worked in Iraq over the past 10 years? Of course not. Now, as before, the building of an all-inclusive, power-sharing, accountable and non-corrupt governance is the way to stop fuelling and facilitating turmoil in the long-term.

Neocons with their self-interested agenda in the Middle East are bad enough – although at least they are blatant.

But alongside them there persists a well-meaning, wrong-headed, handwringing liberal interventionist tendency to want to “do something” military.

This is what helped render Iraq such a heart-breaking mess to begin with. The very last thing Iraqis need right now is more of it.

Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands.