Ky. Voices: U.S. aim to liberate Iraq fueled Mideast chaos

March 19, 2013 

Michael F. Cairo is an associate professor of political science at Transylvania University and author of The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East (University Press of Kentucky, 2012).


Today, March 19, marks 10 years to the date of the American invasion of Iraq. In December 2011, the United States completed its withdrawal from Iraq, officially ending the war.

The recent events in Iraq, including Sunni protests against Shi'a control of the government, however, raise questions about the success of the war.

Was it worth it? After 10 years, is Iraq better off? Are American interests in the Middle East more secure?

In launching the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush argued, the "dangers to our country and the world will be overcome." Have we overcome these dangers?

Saddam Hussein, a ruthless dictator who massacred his own people, has been removed from power. However, his removal also unleashed the civil conflict that continues today.

When Iraq was created, it brought together three groups that were relatively autonomous under the Ottoman Empire: the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi'as. Saddam Hussein's reign of terror managed to contain the conflicts among these diverse regions and groups.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion, American policymakers assumed we would be welcomed as liberators.

What they failed to understand was that the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime would not only liberate the Iraqi people from his terror but also liberate their age-old differences and conflicts.

Moreover, the United States exacerbated those conflicts when it launched its campaign of de- Baathification throughout the country.

Although the Sunnis are a minority within Iraq, they exercised authority under Saddam's regime through the Baath Party. De-Baathification meant an end to Sunni power. Moreover, it created resentment among the Sunni population.

Today, we still see that resentment in the streets of Iraq. The Feb. 8 car bombings in mainly Shi'a Muslim neighborhoods near Baghdad are a manifestation of this resentment. Furthermore, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the president of the Governing Council of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, were Shi'a dissidents under Saddam's regime, serving to heighten the view of Sunni exclusion from the government.

Chalabi's role in the current government also creates the perception that the United States favors the Shi'a regime, since Chalabi was intimately involved in the decision to launch the war.

While the Obama administration has been critical of al-Maliki's exclusion of other groups from power, the damage had been done. Furthermore, the Obama administration extended aspects of the Bush policy, including the use of drones, creating additional animosity. Adding to the tensions, al-Maliki has made friendly gestures to Iran.

The invasion also affected our relations with Iran. After the attacks on 9/11, the Iranian regime issued statements calling the attacks an "atrocity" and offering "sympathy." President Mohammad Khatami argued, "Terrorism is condemned and the world public should identify its roots, and its dimensions and should take fundamental steps to eliminate it."

The Bush administration destroyed any chance of negotiation with Iran by including it in the Axis of Evil and thereby raising concerns in Tehran that Iran would be America's next target.

Another consequence of the war was the strengthening of radical jihadist movements in the Middle East. One example is the legitimization of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. The Bush administration's support for building democracies throughout the Middle East contributed to the election of Hamas in the West Bank in 2006. In turn, Hamas was accepted as a legitimate authority and enhanced its position.

Ten years later, it is clear that the Middle East is less stable and American interests are less secure. The invasion of Iraq played a significant role in creating a more volatile Middle East. There is little doubt that the invasion of Iraq acted as a catalyst for many of the current problems in the region.

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