Erik Moberg ©:
6. THE ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM IRAQ
Now we turn to Iraq, and to what happened there after the Western invasion in 2003. First it should then be said that the country was, and is, characterized by several severe internal conflicts which were controlled by Saddam Hussein but which were destined to erupt after his disappearance after the Western invasion. Saddam Hussein was, as already mentioned, found in his hiding place and thereafter sentenced to death and hanged in 2006. As for the conflicts there is at first the one between the Sunni minority, especially those who dominate in Baghdad and its neighborhoods, and the Shiite majority living, to a large extent, in the southernmost, oil-rich part of the country. Then there is also the conflict between the Kurds in the, equally oil-rich, northernmost part of the country, who try to use the new situation for getting more independent, and the rest of the population.
After their invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Western powers tried, in the same way as in Afghanistan, to introduce a democratic system. Thus elections for a transitional National Assembly were held in 2005, although boycotted by the Sunnis. Then a new constitution was adopted by a referendum in October 2005. And, applying this new constitution, elections for a full-time parliament were held in December 2005, and now the Sunnis, or at least some of them, participated. Anyway, in 2010, parliamentary elections were held again (a mile-stone in Iraqi history according to president Obama), and so in 2014 and 2018. The Prime ministers since 2005 have been first Nuri al-Maliki (a Shiite) 2005-2014, and then since 2014 and into 2018 Haider al-Abadi (also a Shiite). Prime minister al-Abidi, although a Shiite in the same way as al-Maliki, still differs from his predecessor in important respects. He has for long lived in Western countries and is much more Western-oriented than al-Maliki. He has managed to get some cooperation between the different ethnical and religious groups in Iraq, and he also made Obama bring some US forces back for participating in the fighting against IS (about which more below). But, apart from this, he has also taken up some contacts with Russia. Furthermore, and generally speaking, he is however also considered quite weak.
Who will become prime minister, and what else will happen, after the 2018 election is, when this is written in the middle of 2018, still unclear. The turn-out in 2018 was only 44% compared to 62% in 2014. Furthermore part of ballots has been set on fire thereby making a recount of the result, unwanted and perhaps also disputed in parts of the population, impossible. Democracy has not got a hold.
The country thus harbors a severe conflict between Sunnis and Shiites but even so it did not escalate into open fighting until 2006, when the Al-Askari mosque in Samara, an important Shiite shrine, was bombed by Sunni terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda. After this the violence escalated into a veritable civil war which went on well into 2007. Scores of thousands died and at least a million fled their homes. In Table 1 and Diagram 2 (in earlier posts) it is seen that the number of asylum seekers from Iraq is slightly higher in 2008 than in the years immediately after that. The cause may have been the conflicts mentioned.
Later on IS, the Islamic state, became however the most important terrorist actor. It was in fact created in Iraq in 2004, that is the year after the invasion of the Western troops, and later on it declared its mission to create a territorial caliphate. It is thus a terrorist organization with a territorial goal. At first it tried to establish itself in Iraq and Syria and therefore it is sometimes also abbreviated ISIS which, roughly, stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, which we are dealing with here, IS did not start its more ambitious territorial operations until 2014. At first it occupied the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah and then Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Ramadi and Fallujah were soon taken back, but Mosul was not so until the autumn of 2017 and as a result of utterly horrible fighting. It should also be said that IS, despite its territorial ambitions, also engages in terrorist actions internationally. In this respect IS thus has important similarities with al-Qaeda, but differs from Mujahedeen and the Taliban. It also seems likely that these terrorist activities have increased when IS has found it difficult to fulfill its territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria. It should also be said that the Kurds, severely split by internal conflicts, have been attacked by Iraqi government forces who, among others, have taken back the important oil city Kirkuk.
Thus, and summing up the discussion about Iraq, there was before Iraq’s attack on Iran in 1982 a kind of stability under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Then, however, as consequences of Iraq’s attacks on first Iran, and then Kuwait, and other countries countering these attacks, tensions between Iraq and its surroundings increased. And then, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, although aiming, among others, to a democratization of the country, has rather led to instability and severe interior conflicts. The withdrawal of the US troops in 2011 did however not immediately lead to increased emigration. As we see in Diagram 2 the sharp increase, or explosion indeed, did not occur until 2015 and then continued in 2016. A tentative explanation for that is that IS, although created immediately after the invasion of Iraq, did not engage in fighting for territories until 2014.
Anyway, and again in the same way as in Afghanistan, the Western far-aiming invasion initiated by George W. Bush and Obama’s premature, and al-Maliki supported, withdrawal of the troops later on, seem to have been important causes to the chaos created in the country and the following large-scale emigration. But not only that, it also seems reasonable that the emergence or creation of IS, with all its consequences in several parts of the world, was a result of the initial Western invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In Saddam’s Iraq such an organization could hardly appear.
The processes in Afghanistan and Iraq as described here are thus in many ways similar. One important difference, however, is that Afghanistan, prior to the Western invasion, was a failed state whereas Iraq, when invaded, was a harsh and severe dictatorship. And perhaps Iraq, because of the Kurds, is also more internally divided than Afghanistan. Anyway, and in spite of these differences, the invasions with their democracy enhancing ambitions opened the doors for sectarianism and corruption in both countries. But still the Western powers, in the same way as in Afghanistan, began withdrawing their own troops. Thus, at the end of 2011, all US troops left. And, again as in Afghanistan, the initiative was not only Obama’s–the Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki was also active.
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