Published on 13 Jun 2014

Things fall apart in Iraq – are we to blame?

It was some time in 1980 that I first visited Baghdad. It was a very certain city – controlled, despite the chaotic mix of traffic and people in the streets. Saddam’s image was everywhere, on buildings, lampposts, and café walls.

The war with Iran was far away south, and though we’d been to the monstrous war front, smelt the gas, heard the whistle of bullets, seen the blood on the road, the scent of war was absent in Baghdad.

You could not visit Iraq in those days and not be aware of the tender balances beneath Saddam’s oppressive portrait. Confident Shia attending their shrines; Sunni mullahs bellowing from their minarets; and the unmistakable Kurds with their baggy trousers and head windings.

Though I went half a dozen times in between, it was in 2002 that I was conscious again of those balances. Sanctions, and a 13-year-old no-fly zone enforced by RAF pilots, had reduced Saddam by now to rump dictator contained within his own borders. His influence inside and outside the country had faded quite a bit by now.

Members of the Kurdish security forces take part in an intensive security deployment on the outskirts of Kirkuk

When George Bush Junior and Tony Blair started talking about the menace of Saddam, I remember wondering whether they were stuck in a timewarp. Saddam was far from the strident military tyrant I had encountered along the banks of the Shat-al-Arab waterway outside Basra in 1982.

Shock and Awe, they called it, and in that moment those of us who knew Iraq knew that whatever was started this way would probably not end happily. History tells us repeatedly that extreme, violent, neo-fascist religiously fuelled fanaticism has only ever been contained by secular tyrants. Decapitate the tyrant and the things fall apart – as in Iraq, as in Libya.

And now? Saddam’s old Ba’athist mates have been restored by the Isis insurgency to run both Mosul and Tikrit. Iraq is being fast triangulated – Kurds are seizing Kurdish lands; Sunni Isis is seizing the minority Sunni sector; and Iran is moving her forces to secure the Shia majority portion.

The entity of Iraq itself, which Britain invented early in 20th century, cannot hold.

The utter foolhardiness of the Iraq adventure of 2003 is exposed. It has incubated and infected Syria and exposed Saudi and other Arabian influencers. And where is Iran? Potentially the most stable and powerful land in the region. Funny old world – did this outcome ever cross the minds of the architects of that shocking awe?

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16 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    The West is absolutely to blame. And the blame has its roots in former colonial times. But the new flower of it is entirely due to the USA and its willing puppets in Europe. The moron Bush2 and the disgusting hypocritical Blair war criminal are merely the most recent manifestations. Behind it all lurk the Grey Eminences of Cheney and Rumsfeld, plus new imperialists such as Brzezinski and the oil companies. The public record is clear – anyone who ignores it is a fool.

    Chomsky long ago warned us about the newspeak that would accompany this kind of murderous modern version of colonialism. As a minor example substitute “blitzkrieg” for “shock and awe” and “water torture” for “water boarding” and you will see what Chomsky meant. Try too to insert “pro-Washington Nazi junta” when referring to the Kiev gang and see how far you get in the face of “pro-Russian gun slingers” (the latter phrase courtesy of the ineffable Hilsum).

    Meanwhile, the West is guilty of mass murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens in the Middle East, as well as sacrificing the lives of thousands of young men and women in the invading military, all of it for oil money and in pursuit of the Great Game. The West 9and its media poodles) are up to their individual and collective armpits in innocent blood.

    If you wish to get the reality of it straight from the mouth of the then-most-decorated-US-soldier, try reading “War Is A Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler. And that was well before the current gang of murderers hove in to view.

    The truth is the West couldn’t care less about the Middle East except where it affects the price of oil and a balance of power in their favour. The various invasions were prompted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which awful tragedy was used as an excuse for military action long in the planning.

    Let us be clear: the Middle East isn’t the West’s to “lose” in the first place. Everything the USA and Europe has touched has destroyed human lives and societies. It has taken three generations for those affected even to begin to recover.

    Next up, Ukraine and Africa – McCain and a gang of US “senators” were last week in Bulgaria bribing locals to block a new Russian pipeline to Europe. Funny, but that little junket received virtually no coverage in Western media.

    Yes, we are to blame and Yes we should be outraged at the scumbags who led the West into these disgusting crimes. More to the point, no matter how long it takes history shows what goes around comes around.

    Meantime, innocent human beings endure unimaginable suffering. And nobody in the media calls for the Western murderers to be arraigned in front of the International Court. Why am I not surprised?

    1. kazeem says:

      Thank you so much in your depth analysis of crisis in Middle East (ME) . You’re right, the problems in the ME and indeed are fundamentally the fault of the colonial adventures of the West.
      Military interventions is Neo colonization no doubt about that.

    2. cate says:

      De-construct ‘the West’ , the apportioning of blame singularly, fuels further injustice, bloodshed and volatile hatred. War has casualties and a legacy of catastrophic social, political and economic devastation. The myriad of forces and counter forces affords no clear morality or moral high-ground. Similarly summary executions, torture and wanton atrocities will never be atoned for. Injustice and cruelty are endemic and almost pandemic. The nature of militia warfare creates casualties beyond the deceased, it breaks down the veneer of civic infrastructure which gave the semblance of normal life. Referring to the order held by the tyrant, and the fragmented factional breakdown, the situations and power structures were imposed, the order of life did not emerge naturally from the ‘indigenous communities’. The gulf within is a deepening fissure and infected wound. Obama is right this time, ‘they can’t intervene for a long term secure emergence of the balance of powers. Your hostility is so entrenched, (deservedly/undeservedly) it does not matter…life and order will have to find their way to sustainability beyond bloodshed, cruelty and chaos. In the meantime, displaced persons need humanitarian assistance ..from the W.H.O?

    3. H Mahmood says:

      I absolutely Agree with Philip. if there is one person to blame is there it has to be the moron bush2 and if there is one country to blame it has to be usa and no one else. This is toped up by American media which has played its role in creating a frenzy among American public and lied so much to the public that lies became a generally accepted truth. And now when the things have gone out of hands no one is prepared to accept the blame. Was it not the same Iraq when Sunnis were butchered by Mehdi army and ameican forces were jumping with joy and no one pointed out how many were killed and where their graves are. now it is shiat muslims are being butchered and entire western media is shouting just because this time it is against usa’s interest. just once in your life stay away from these people, let them short out their own problem. you could still get Iraq’a oil if you had made a business deal, you did not have to slaughter the entire nation.

  2. peter miller says:

    Dear Jon. Great piece of analytic journalistic work Iraq’s colonial boarders are being redrawn! It even positivley suits the Western Countries to have Muslems fighting other Muslems & other Tribal sectarian, political beliefs all warring against each other rather like feudal Maciviellian 16/17th Century Italy!

  3. Astrid says:

    It is facile and pointless to continually blame ‘The West’ for the diabolical, murderous behaviour of Islamic fascists.

    I’d agree with “History tells us repeatedly that extreme, violent, neo-fascist religiously fuelled fanaticism has only ever been contained by secular tyrants. Decapitate the tyrant and the things fall apart – as in Iraq, as in Libya.”

    Iraq was a terrible mistake, but do we take the blame forever that people just can’t live together without an all powerful dictator? No way.

  4. kobby slip says:

    Thanks Jon,
    Excellent piece but no doubt the west is to be blamed. Do I need to repeat what edward philips have said previously? It captures my thoughts perfectly.
    Now what bothers me is how your good old self sleeps at night. Knowing very well the biaseness with which sometimes you ask questions ignoring the glaringly obvious questions to ask the politicians.
    In 2003 you failed to hammer home the worries about tony blair’s and bush’s intent to hit Iraq.
    I bow my head in shame sometimes when I hear you interview anti russia protestants.
    it seems to me that you and your colleagues in the british and american media have a bias position when seeking the truth.
    Who is to be blamed, don’t run away from your responsibilities as a trusted and seasoned journalist because posterity will judge you by your deeds. We are all watching.
    all that america and its west cronies are doing in bulgaria now is well known but do we hear anything in the so called established media? Its funny huh?
    Who started the chaos in kiev in the first place? You know the answer, and its not russia. But all that you guys talk about is dissecting Putton’s intentions.
    live a legacy Jon, and posterity will fare thee well.
    All the best.

  5. Glen says:

    Let me get this right, for a 1000 years Shia have been brutally murdering Sunni and Sunni have been brutally murdering Shia over a prophet……and it’s Obamas fault?
    The root of the problem seems to be highly religious states where giving them freedom is actually giving them enough rope to hang them selves. Throw in a bit of beheading and crucifixion for good measure especially if your gay or a raped woman…….oh yeah, that’s Blairs fault.
    What kind of a place is it where Sadam is the good guy? Hmmmmm……Oh I forgot, it’s because of Bush.
    Pre 9/11 It was impossible to get oil price lower than $18 per barrel because of the OPEC monopoly. Yes the planet wanted States like Iraq to trade oil and it is equally true that the planet wanted States like Iraq to become rich and stable from its oil. The problem is of course you can’t let Sadam become rich from oil.
    Take an alternative reality where Sadam was still in power in 2014. What would the world look like post Arab Spring? I’m not sure there would be a world because one thing is for sure Iran and Sadam would certainly be at the end game of a nuclear weapons race. Never a good place to be for highly tribal, illogical and religious States. Add to that the increasing instability of surrounding regions and what do you get?
    The easiest position is to blame Blair but honestly, hardly anyone reads any depth on this subject, they just see War = Bad and it’s much easier to blame a rational person as opposed to blaming highly superstitious people that still think exactly as they did 700 yeas ago but with 21st century weapons.

  6. Old Geezer says:

    No, we are not to blame for the chaos. There is fighting in Central African Republic, Chad, Mali. Northern Nigeria, and Kenya. Wherever there are strong Islamic forces there is war. There is even trouble in Western China. Put the blame where it really lies, with those doing the fighting, and those giving the orders.

  7. Y.S. says:

    I think the same problems that are in Iraq were in Afganistan and Syria and the west needs to understand them. You cannot put Shia soldiers in Sunni areas in Iraq or Non pashtun soldiers in Pashtun areas in Afganistan or Alawyte soldiers in Sunni areas in Syria. What happens is those with guns will abuse those without.
    The solution is divide and have a federal structure, so you have some sort of local control over its own area.
    In the past the west has helped Saddam ( Sunni) when he was fighting Iran ( Shia) then fought him, then put Shia in charge in Iraq thus alienating the Sunni.
    Iraq needs to be divided up into Kurd, Sunni and Shia areas as they cannot live together and the locals in charge of its own areas.

  8. Dr Gill Gillespie says:

    Wow. This blog could have been written by the Iran regime itself. What a ridiculous distortion of the facts, with Obama’s corrupt, appeasing administration not even mentioned. Shame on Jon Snow for such an ignorant post, instead of recognizing that the Iran regime is behind both the Syria genocide and continues to murder innocent Christians, Bahai’s, Kurds, bloggers, men and women every day. They are at the center of every terrorist activity in the Middle East. Anyone with an iota of intelligence knows this, and that the Kurds are the only people standing between the Iraqi people and the same atrocities that Assad has put the Syrians through. The post above has probably been written by one of the Iran regime’s hated lobbyists like NIAC, or at the very least a racist, anti-Israel thug. I will be telling as many people about Jon Snow’s tainted views on every social media site I can.

  9. Willard says:

    Blame British MPs for not backing moderate Syrian rebels in the beginning and allowing ISIS to get a grip.

  10. Meg Howarth says:

    What an intemperate piece by Dr Gill Gillespie, above. Where she gets the ‘racist, anti-Israel thug’ line from to describe Jon’s blog can only be a matter of conjecture. Her Twitter bio – @Khoshkeledoc – states that she is ‘UK Director – Iranian Refugees Action Network, working to support all victims of mysogynistic, fascist regimes worldwide, but my views are my own here’.

    Interesting to hear Jonathan Rugman’s c4news interview tonight with the son of Jalal Talabini, stating that the ‘old’ Iraq is over, that three separate states are likely to emerge – rather like the break-up of the post-Gorbachev Soviet Union.

  11. nehad ismail says:

    I watched the Channel 4 news earlier this evening. There does seem to be a confusion over ISIS in Iraq and ISIS in Syria. ISIS in Syria is an ally of the Assad’s regime. It never attacks government forces, and ISIS itself is never targeted by the regime. It would appear that ISIS Syria entered Syria to help the regime. Only the Free Syrian Army is fighting ISIS.
    ISIS in Iraq paradoxically is fighting the Al-Maliki army and has a different agenda. It is not clear what the end-game is owing to the fact that several regional players such as Iran are manipulating the situation to their advantage. But we must be careful to distinguish between ISIS Syria which is on the regime’s side and ISIS Iraq.

  12. Philip says:

    The problem with our world is rancorous ideologies, amoral greed and intolerant religious divides. A fair number of the comments above illustrate this clearly. Unfortunately, they largely seek to condemn and score points, rather than seek to understand and more important to help in considering how we can reduce these conflicts and help to ensure there are fewer of them in future. We also need to learn from experience and set out to do what is both achievable and doesn’t make things worse.
    Events in Iraq and Syria have a multiplicity of causes. The West has certainly contributed – both through unfortunate military adventures and through economic pressures, but as important, through the spread of ideas, by and large begun in what we’ve called “the Enlightenment”, which encourage all people to have their own voice in running their part of the world and secularise society. In the Middle East, these clash with completely opposing beliefs about religion & society. Europe’s passage through a similar clash was scarcely trouble-free, but the technology (weapons & mass media) meant that there were fewer casualties and much remained largely unknown.
    It’s too easy to adopt positions. Saddam Hussain was a tyrant, who happily murdered scores of his own people, invaded his neighbours and was a cause of instability in the Middle East. Ditto Assad. Whatever we might think of those opposing them, we need to remember what life was like under their regimes. This is an area where there are shades of grey, not black & white. Similarly, it is unclear to me how the West has caused the vicious antagonism between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Plainly, as in Africa, the Middle east, and, indeed, parts of Europe and Asia, colonial or post-war decisions on drawing territorial boundaries were frequently inappropriate….but we should also remind ourselves that even where they seem “appropriate”, that may be because of ethnic cleansing or forced immigration (e.g. Russians in the Baltic States).
    There are many reasons why people want to fight their neighbours or near-neighbours. It took us some 750 years not to do it with the French, 500 years with the Scots and considerably longer with the Irish. If we want to prevent this sort of thing happening, we need to understand – not just why this particular conflict – be it Sunni v Shia or Russian v Ukrainian (ethnically & linguistically virtually indistinguishable) – but why people resort apparently so easily to fighting, killing, raping and torturing each other. Until we properly understand that – e.g. why do certain young British Muslims decide to go and fight for a variant of al-Qaeda in Syria & Iraq but most others don’t? – we’ll keep focusing on the symptoms….which, of course, is so much easier and once we’ve typed our little bit and pressed “send”, we feel so much more satisfied, despite the fact that we’ve contributed nothing to solving the problems – indeed, generally just encouraged people to harden their opinions, when actually the whole world needs softer opinions & a greater preparedness to listen to and appreciate what “the other side” says.

  13. LucyWebb says:

    I agree that we are to blame for the problems in Iraq. We created Iraq and then brought a war there that has destroyed the country. It is very similar to what Britain did in Uganda, uniting groups of people that would not consider themselves as one country, and forcing them to be one. If Britain created the state of Iraq, then they hold some responsibility to ensure that it is run correctly and does not fall into the condition that it is currently in.

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