Why is Iraq in Such Trouble?

Hi, I’m a young anabaptist named Nate. Some of you on this site know me. Anyway, I thought I’d post something on an issue I believe is of great importance: What’s wrong in Iraq?

Conservatives blame liberals for being “soft” on terrorism. Liberals blame the neocons. And everybody in America seems to ultimately blame the insurgents and “terrorists” who “hate freedom and the democratic process.”

But as usual, things are not that simple. Not nearly. There are several factors that most middle east scholars and experts foresaw. Let me enumerate some of them, since I believe it is imperative for us to understand world events so we can make a difference:

1) Religious: Sunnis and Shiites are different. They have major religious disagreements that go back to the generation after Mohammed. And they’ve been fighting pretty much ever since, off and on. Saddam Hussein, brutal as he was, held the country together. But now that there’s a power vacuum, the religous tensions have inevitably exploded.

2) Political: There are several issues here. First of all, Iraq and most of its Arab neighbors are artificial states, carved out by the British after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds were never in a country together. It was stupid of the British to create the modern state of Iraq, and it was doubly stupid for America to think the country wouldn’t fall apart into its different traditional groups once the dictatorship was taken away.

Secondly, the Sunnis in Iraq are in a minority, yet Saddam came from their group, so the Shiites have been persecuted along with the Kurds. The Shiites, naturally, want revenge (or justice) and the Sunnis want power back.

Thirdly, the Kurds want their own state. They always have. But Turkey, as much as it wants to curb the violence in its neighbor, is against a separate Kurdish state, because many Kurds live in Turkey. That means they’d lose territory.

3) Economic: First off, the Shiites (and to a lesser extent the Kurds) are sitting on all of Iraq’s oil. The Sunnis mostly get barren desert. So that creates conflict whereby the Shiites and Kurds want independent states much more than the Sunnis do. This creates infighting among the Sunni groups.

Second, America caused a lot of the violence in Iraq by its economic policies before and during the war. First of all, the economic sanctions, while effective at stalling Saddam’s attempts at getting banned weapons (our intelligence knew this, by the way), demoralized the Iraqi people and caused more unemployment, poverty, sickness, and general dissatisfaction among the people. To add insult to injury, America under Paul Bremer disbanded Iraq’s nationalized industries and businesses, letting some 500,000 people go unemployed. Without the guarantee of money or the universal tie to government jobs, people started falling back on ethnic groups and militias, which provided comfort and improvement on the current system. Think about that last number: 500,000. If only one in ten of these people joined militias (or even supported them in some way), that would make 50,000 fighters, spread out between different groups. If we wondered where all the insurgents came from, this is a primary source.

So, as some might ask, what’s the upshot of this? Ummm… I’m not exactly sure. We’re all small individuals. But I believe education on world events is important, and I feel compelled to speak out, following a noble line of social critics.

Comments (7)

  1. Vigilante

    I think the most critically important point to make about Iraq is what we have there is not so much a war as an occupation. Wars are either won (maybe) or lost. Occupations are not won or lost. They are just ended.

  2. Nathan Eanes

    You’re perfectly right. This is an occupation, and the fact that the Bush administration planned no “exit stragegy” indicates that they intended it to be an occupation, for American interests.

  3. Vigilante

    That’s why there was no exit strategy planned! YOU’RE right! No exit strategy because they never planned to exit. No one on my site has made that point yet!

  4. Vigilante

    “a metaphorical molotov”


  5. Justin Alexander

    Tim Nafzinger emailed me this post and invited me to reply because I have some experience of Iraq. What Nate says about the economic aspects of the situation are spot on and too often overlooked.

    Some of your other points sound to me like you may have been reading Peter Galbraith’s “The End of Iraq”, and I’d challenge them. There is very little record of inter-community conflict in Iraq. Certainly some regimes have oppressed segments of the population, but this should not be construed as inherent sectarianism. While Shiism was indeed born out of conflict within the early Islamic community, it is misleading to talk about an ongoing sunni-shia war throughout the last 1400 years, certainly not in Iraq. The growth of arab (as opposed to Persian) Shiism in Iraq is a relatively recent phenomenon (17-18th century) which converstion being in part an act of resistance against the Ottoman rule. While there was no independent nation state of Iraq prior to the British mandate, the name was already in use refering to the area from Basra to Mosul, and often including a wider area including what is now Iraqi Kurdistan. The region has a historical unity dating back to the Assyrian and Bablyonian empires, and the rivers have provided continuity of connection even as it has been ruled from outside and administered in different ways. I recommend reading my friend Zaid al-Ali’s article which is linked to in my latest blog post on http://www.justinalexander.net

  6. eric

    i would add that it is a dangerous and common trend to claim that any two groups of people ‘have always been at war’ and the best solution is to separate them. it’s a common proposal for israel/palestine and has also been used in places such as rwanda. this solution always seems to sidestep the real issues and blame everything on some vaguely racist concept that segregation really is best.

    did i say vaguely?

  7. Nathan Eanes

    I hope I didn’t suggest a particular policy. I did not mean to suggest that we should separate the people or promote any type of segregation. I just think we need to understand and honestly discuss the ethnic and economic dynamics of the situation.

    Although you two may be right– I don’t know the exact history of Shiite-Sunni relations in Iraq specifically.

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