Yes, the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) take over in Iraq is alarming and tragic. After living and working in Iraq with a peace team before, during, and since the 2003 U.S. invasion, and experiencing the horror and suffering the Iraqi people have endured, I am appalled with what is happening now.
It’s not so surprising when you know many of factors behind this, including the uprising in Syria, that started nonviolently in 2011 to change an oppressive and corrupt government, but turned violent, drawing in foreign fighters. What’s happening is also the legacy of Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki’, a Shia Muslim. whose brutal regime has been a dictatorial rule based on corruption, arbitrary arrests, torturing and killing political opposition, that he called “anti-terrorism.” In the past three years he crushed a nonviolent uprising movement in Iraq against government corruption and repression. All he has done has deeply angered Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis and further devastated any cohesiveness in a society already torn apart by the war and occupation.
And it isn’t just that the U.S. left too soon, as some commentators have said! It has more to do with the actual U.S. intervention, its post-invasion policies, and operations in Iraq geared toward destroying Iraqi society and rebuilding it to be available to economic plunder by international corporations. The longer our troops remained, the worse the situation there became.
Since the invasion, U.S. personnel in Iraq operated in a way that increased ethnic tensions and suppressed building collaborative, democratic leadership among the various ethnic and political factions. The U.S. hand-pick the post-invasion government leaders, marginalized other leaders who disagreed with the U.S occupation, discouraged grassroots human rights activity, controlled, behind the scenes the decisions of the heads of the new government ministries. U.S. personnel were instrumental in putting and keeping Maliki in power, even when the election results were questioned. U.S. Special Forces worked with Maliki’s Ministry of Interior to establish, train and equip the new Iraqi Special Police Forces that in 2005 began its campaign of sectarian killing and torture. I tell more about these things in my book, Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Books, 2013).
Even before the U.S. intervened militarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, so many around the world had predicted that the kind of operations planned in the name of the “war on terrorism” would increase anger and opposition to the U.S. and give fuel the formation and expansion of world-wide groups using terror to stop the U.S. and to gain power to establish alternative governments in the name of religion. The U.S. chose to ignore this warning and we have been seeing the result in that whole region.
President Obama is now being pressured to intervene in Iraq militarily. Bombing strikes or other military actions by the U.S., however, will not really resolve the underlying tensions and problems in Iraq, but only increase the suffering of the Iraqi people and increase the destabilization of the country. Putting more weapons in the hands of Maliki would increase his power to wage brutal violence on his own people who oppose his rule. Military intervention might not even be able stop this horrific movement in Iraq. Such actions will not stem the growing movement of terror in the world, but would continue to fuel the spread of such groups.
Our country’s violent and oppressive actions there have made such a mess of things that it greatly reduces the things we could do that will really turn this situation around. But we should encourage and support a government that is non-sectarian and which responds to the needs and concerns of the people. It would be wise to the table neighboring countries, the UN and Arab League and finding solutions that deal with and address regional problems.
Look at Nigeria, where international oil companies and corrupt government take the huge profits from oil production, and the people do not benefit from the resources in their backyards. This is fertile ground for terrorism to take hold. Similar things happen in Iraq and other countries where people have been rising up to say, “We will not put up with this any longer.” And because their voices are not taken seriously, they resort to violence and extremist religious ideologies.
I don’t believe we will stop world-wide terrorism without taking a very radical shift in global economics and to policies based on relationships of justice with other countries. It will not happen without addressing the legitimate complaints of the poor and marginalized and putting the money now wasted in building military power bases around the world, for caring for real human needs around the world and back home
We have short memories. Each time a crisis occurs we are seduced into thinking that military force is the only thing that will save us from this disaster. And each time our country gives in to this demand, it results in more instability, violence, and suffering. When will we ever learn that it is not the quick fix it pretends to be and that we must make more radical, long-term changes?