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Iraq: Ten Years After Invasion:

Paper No:  5726                               Dated 19-Jun-2014
 
By Kazi Anwarul Masud
 
Many would argue that Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq was perhaps one of the greatest strategic mistakes ever committed because of a myopic view of then global situation and showmanship of an "imperialist" power play.
 
Despicable that he was as a dictator yet Saddam Hussein's Iraq was stable, less infested by sectarian violence and an oil rich country as well. Francis Fukuyama's End of History was a far cry and democratization of the Middle East (Arab Spring was yet to come) was a distant dream.
 
Intellectuals of distinction argued against the neo-cons who crowded Bush Jr's Oval Office or whose books then President took to bed to read won the day. After Afghanistan (albeit with UNSC sanction) the invasion of Iraq was seen in the Muslim world in particular as attack on Islam because Saddam Hussein, disliked as he was, had no tract with the Al-Qaida or international terrorists. Bush-Blair arguments that Saddam Hussein had WMD ready to fire on the West and his relationship with the al-Qaida proved to be wrong and hence the only rationale remained was that of regime change.
 
But Tony Blair continues to defend his decision on Iraq invasion in his blog( June 14 2014). He invites his readers to Consider in the post 2011 Arab uprisings Saddam and his two sons would be running Iraq in 2011 when the uprisings began. "Is it seriously being said that the revolution sweeping the Arab world would have hit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, to say nothing of the smaller upheavals all over the region, but miraculously Iraq, under the most brutal and tyrannical of all the regimes, would have been an oasis of calm?" In Tony Blair's words: "The reality is that the whole of the Middle East and beyond is going through a huge, agonizing and protracted transition. We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't. The fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it. The problems of the Middle East are the product of bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion going back over a long time. Poor governance, weak institutions, oppressive rule and a failure within parts of Islam to work out a sensible relationship between religion and Government have combined to create countries which are simply unprepared for the modern world".
 
Blair continues his sermon by inviting his readers to learn "the lesson from the whole of the so-called Arab Spring. The fact is that as a result of the way these societies have developed and because Islamism of various descriptions became the focal point of opposition to oppression, the removal of the dictatorship is only the beginning not the end of the challenge. Once the regime changes, then out come pouring all the tensions – tribal, ethnic and of course above all religious; and the rebuilding of the country, with functioning institutions and systems of Government, becomes incredibly hard. The extremism de-stabilizes the country, hinders the attempts at development, the sectarian divisions become even more acute and the result is the mess we see all over the region. And beyond it. Look at Pakistan or Afghanistan and the same elements are present. Understanding this and analyzing properly what has happened, is absolutely vital to the severe challenge of working out what we can do about it". 
 
Should we forget that in the months before the American invasion of Iraq, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, was one of the few members of the foreign policy establishment to speak out strongly about the dangers of going to war unilaterally against Saddam Hussein, and to warn, presciently it turns out, of the possibly dire consequences of doing so without a larger strategic plan? In August 2002, as the Bush administration was already hurrying toward an invasion, Brzezinski cautioned that war “is too serious a business and too unpredictable in its dynamic consequences — especially in a highly flammable region — to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions.” 
 
In his book Second Chance Brzezinski perceives the role of the United States’ in the Middle East has steadily deteriorated, as America “came to be perceived in the region, rightly or wrongly, not only as wearing the British imperialist mantle but as acting increasingly on behalf of Israel, professing peace but engaging in delaying tactics that facilitated the expansion of the settlements.” He termed the war on Iraq as a political disaster that turned away resources from fighting the al-Qaida that he thought was more of a threat to the US and was using the Iraq invasion as a fertile ground for recruitment of jihadists
 
Peter Bergen, national security analyst, thinks the degree of threat by al-Qaida and its affiliates to have gone down considerably and criticizes both David Cameron and Tony Blair for continuing to describe al-Qaida affiliated attacks as a "large and existential threat" emanating from North Africa. Bergen adds that Western politicians and commentators who claim that the al Qaeda linked groups in North Africa are a serious threat to the West unnecessarily alarm their publics and also feed the self-image of these terrorists who aspire to attack the West, but don't have the capacity to do so. Peter Bergen convincingly argues that Jihadists refusal to participate in elections as unIslamic is "invariably a recipe for irrelevance or defeat.
 
In not one nation in the Muslim world since 9/11 has a jihadist militant group seized control of a country. And al Qaeda and its allies' record of effective attacks in the West has been non-existent since 2005.With threats like these we can all sleep soundly at night". South Asian expert Bruce Riedel is less convinced about the demise of Islamist radicals . He believes that (The Daily Beast January 13 2014) "Pakistan will continue to be the principal supporter and patron of the Afghan Taliban, the enemy that we have been fighting for so long. Pakistan provides the Taliban with safe haven and sanctuary to train and recruit its fighters and protects its leaders, including Mullah Omar. The Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, helps train and fund the Taliban. For the last few years America has also fought a second war from Afghanistan, the counter-terrorist war inside Pakistan. Al-Qaeda found a new base in Pakistan after we toppled Mullah Omar’s Afghan emirate in 2001..... Once American pressure on al-Qaeda in Pakistan subsides, we should expect its regeneration will be fast given the huge jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan and the ISI’s incompetence and/or collusion with the jihadists. Al-Qaeda’s Pakistani allies like Lashkar e Tayyiba, the Pakistan Taliban and others will gladly help al-Qaeda recover, especially when the danger of a drone strike is much reduced. 
 
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is likely to be even less vigorous in fighting al-Qaeda than his predecessor Asif Zardari". What are we then left with--Bernard Lewis's thesis that Islam was never prepared to accept Christianity as an equal and/or Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis?
 
German social scientist Dieter Senghass argues in his book entitled “clash within civilization” if there is going to be a clash it is more probable to occur within a civilization than between different civilizations because all cultures today have undergone more inner conflict and turmoil than ever before in the past. According to Senghaas the concept of the “clash within Civilization” means that the future pattern of conflict will be drowned by cultural fault lines within civilizations caused by process of modernization within societies. His views are further strengthened by Vahid Niayesh( Four clashes of civilizations) by the overwhelming necessity of economic cooperation among nations transcending national borders aimed at bettering the life of the people. Niyaesh concludes that economic regionalism is not spreading based on civilizational borders but economic necessities. "It is almost impossible to imagine another regional block like EC of 90s which at the time could be classified as an economic entity that was inscribed in a hazy cultural border line. The EU of 2007 by 27 members and soon to become 34 or even more is far away from that possibility. In conclusion, Huntington’s conception of what constitutes a civilization is hazy. He overlooks the dynamic processes within each so-called civilization, and overestimates the importance of religion in the behavior of non-Western elites, who are often secularized, westernized or rather globalized"
The problem of Huntington's thesis is his emphasis on Islamo-Christianity conflict. This conflict, in the eyes of the Westerners, dates back as far as the initial thrust of Islam into Europe its eventual expulsion in the Iberian reconquest, the attacks of the Ottoman Turks on Eastern Europe and Vienna, and the European imperial division of the Islamic nations in the 1800s and 1900s.Huntington also believes that some of the factors contributing to this conflict are that both Christianity (which has influenced Western civilization) and Islam are: Missionary religions, seeking conversion of others. Universal, "all-or-nothing" religions, in the sense that it is believed by both sides that only their faith is the correct one. In this simple scenario there are complexities of differing interpretations in the same religion giving rise to sectarian conflicts that are often bloody. 
 
The descending chaos in Iraq, for example, is due to the inability of Nur-e-Maliki to bring about a governance of equity between the majority Shias and minority Sunnis. Then of course there are bloody attempts by some among the Muslims to transform Islam into its 6th century "pristine" form in contradiction of the fruits of modernity and economic growth. The urgent necessity of the day is not to prove the "superiority" of one faith over another but to go across "civilizational" boundaries to make the world into a cohesive unit agreeing at the same time that violence would be punished and sovereignty is contingent upon the behavior of countries to live responsibly as members of the international community. 
 
(The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in Bangladesh)
 
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