The United States-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to a major internal turmoil. After the occupation, people who had to take care of themselves as a result of the disappearance of state institutions had to gather around their denominations and ethnic groups and there was a conflict between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish people. The power of the Sunnis who ruled the country about seventy-five years came into the hands of the Shiites and many Sunni supported ISIS due to the outrage of being excluded. Although America may not be able to establish authority after the occupation and could not suppress dangerous groups, the biggest cause of chaos in the country is the consciousness of the Iraqi nation that has not been established since the day it was founded and the unresolved ethnic and religious problems.
The 2nd Gulf War, which started at 05.34 local time on March 20, 2003, changed not only the fate of Iraq, but the whole Middle East. This joint military operation by the United Kingdom and the United States aimed to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime in the country to make the country a democratic state, to destroy the weapons of mass destruction thought to exist in the country, and – most importantly – to control Iraqi oil. The most important reason was to control Iraqi oil, because Iraq possesses eleven percent of the world’s oil reserves and after the end of the war, the alleged weapons of mass destruction and materials could not find within the borders of Iraq. Outside the United States and the United Kingdom, majorities believed that oil was a key strategic factor. Because, the United States was the world’s largest consumer of oil, accounting for fully one quarter of global consumption, and the largest importer.
The coalition forces successfully completed the operation by securing Iraqi oil within three weeks without encountering much resistance during the operation, however, everything would start from now on. The state structure of Iraq had collapsed and the stable structure, which had been provided in a way by Saddam, had ended. The work of American troops in the country was now much more difficult because they had to be alert because of the unpredictable terrorist attacks.
The most important and tragic development that emerged in the post-war period was the emergence of problems based on religious and ethnic grounds due to the deterioration of the structure of the country. The Shiite Arabs, the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds in the north of the country were brought together by Iraq, and despite the majority of Shiites, they were ruled by the Sunnis from 1920 until 2003. After 2003, the hegemony of Sunnis ended, and the power fell into the hands of the Shiite majority. However, the emergence of Shiite militia groups and aid organizations operating under the ground during Saddam Hussein strengthened the Shiites and facilitated the exclusion of Sunnis who once held the country. This feeling of exclusion in the Sunni groups has led to the support of organizations such as al-Qaeda (later ISIS) in Iraq by the Sunni people and increasing their effectiveness within the country. This conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis was a blow to the secular identity of the country and caused sectarian conflicts.
At the moment, corruption is very high in Iraq and the security forces are politicized. Parliamentary elections and other government institutions in Iraq do not contribute to the stability of Iraq. Most Sunnis view the government as a Shiite administrative apparatus. The parliament cannot work effectively because of the internal disagreements among the groups of representatives in parliament. Therefore, problems such as constitutional amendment and natural resources law cannot be solved.
However, to think that the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups in Iraq are within their own unity and can move together will bring us wrong results. These groups also have conflicts of interests and conflict of opinions within themselves. Kurds living in northern Iraq are divided by two rival political parties, the KDP and the KYP and the same applies to Shiites and Sunnis. After 2003, contrary to the US expectation, the Shiite groups who in close ties with Iran have taken over the rule instead of liberal Shiites, and this has strengthened Iran’s influence in the country as never before. Apart from that, the strong tribes of the Shiites (such as Hakim and Sadr) are struggling for power. At the same time, some of the Sunnis in Iraq support ISIS while the other part supports the Baghdad government for the integrity of the country.
The loss of authority in Iraq has led to the struggle of neighboring countries in the region. In this struggle for influence, Turkey has been directed to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and has obtained several concessions in the energy field. It plays a crucial role in the development of both oil and gas in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). While Turkish companies are constantly seeking major commercial opportunities in federal Iraq, Turkish investors are already playing a major role in the development of hydrocarbon resources in the KRI. Saudi Arabia’s goal in Iraq was Sunni Arabs, however, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and ISIS has made Saudi Arabia’s goal more difficult. Iran has a strong influence on the Shiites, as everyone has predicted. In contrast to the expectations of the United States, the fact that the Shiite groups close to Iran came to the fore in the country increased Iran’s influence and led to questioning the policy of the United States. Although Iran is cautious about the US, Iraq and the US have a struggle for Iraq.
1. Developments in Iraq after the Second Gulf War
Twenty days after the March 20, 2003, when the coalition forces entered the Iraqi territory from the border with Kuwait, the government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown. After the occupation of the country there was no political authority to rule Iraq, and the state’s mechanism disappeared. For this reason, The Coalition Provisional Authority was created under the leadership of the United States and the country was governed by this formation between May 2003 and June 2004. Although it created the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to legitimize the CPA’s existence in the eyes of the Iraqis, the IGC did not have much power in the strategic decisions and the CPA had the final say in them. During this period, the influence of the Baath Party was abolished and the Iraqi army disbanded. These two decisions are much more important than the establishment of a temporary formation, the Coalition Provisional Authority, because they have directly contributed to the instability in Iraq. The consequences of the two processes were many such as thousands of people losing jobs and the start of the Sunni insurgency.Many Sunnis converged around Abu Mosab al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda. In the meantime, some of the Shi’ite community took place against United States and joined forces around Muqtada al-Sadr and started resistance.
In 2005, Iraq’s new constitution was announced and in the same year (January 2005), for the first time after the occupation, the parliament was elected in Iraq. But this election was boycotted by the Sunnis who thought they were excluded and had been wronged. The Iraqi Parliament was dominated by the Shiites in every election after this date. Moreover, secular politicians have gradually declined after each election and replaced them with politicians who are sectarianist. After Nouri al-Maliki took over the position of prime minister from Ibrahim Ja’fari in 2006, the Sunni-Shiite division in Iraq and Iran’s influence on Iraq gradually increased.
During the reign of Nouri al-Maliki, who was sentenced to death during the Saddam Hussein period and spent 24 years of his life in exile abroad, Shiite domination has grown in the state structure of Iraq, while corruption has increased and Iraq has failed to carry out the necessary economic reforms. In the period of Prime Ministry of Nouri al-Maliki, the relationship between Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Baghdad government was broken. It is difficult to solve the problems between the two sides, although the United States also intervenes to dissolve the ice between these two parties, which do not agree on the oil revenues.
By December 2011, the US government withdrew its troops from Iraq. The United States had given this decision to think that there was no reason for them to remain in the country. However, since then, the problems in Iraq have become increasingly high. There were many problems within the government during this period. In the Maliki government, where the power struggle was intense, the corruption rate was also high. Apart from that, the country’s Vice President (Sunni) was subjected to terrorist charges by the Prime Minister and was soon arrested. This situation increased the tension in the country. It was quite clear that by 2014 Nouri al-Maliki could not bring stability and peace to the country. Due to the intense pressure of the United States, Maliki transferred his post as Prime Minister to Haydar al-Abadi. In this period, the biggest contribution to instability came from ISIS. In a short time, US troops had to return to the country. Currently the US has 5200 soldiers in Iraq.
ISIS, established in 1999 by Abu Mosab al-Zerkavi on the territory of Afghanistan, has fueled the sectarian conflict within the country with its bloody actions. In 2004, the organization became associated with al-Qaeda and was renamed as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The policies of the US after the invasion of Iraq have strengthened ISIS. As a result of the removal of the Coalition Provisional Authority from thousands of high-ranking military states in the Iraqi army, many of the unemployed soldiers began to fight for ISIS, and ISIS has gained considerable strength in the military sense. The organization began to lose its influence in the second half of the 2000s, because the United States demonstrated its power. However, the withdrawal of the US from the region in December 2011 and the triggering of the Syrian Civil War in the same period caused ISIS to strengthen within the country. ISIS seized the cities of Felluje, Ramadi and Mosul in 2014; the country has been de facto divided into Shiite Arab, Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions. For this reason, Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army supported by Shiite militias such as al-Hashd ash-Shaʿabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) fought against ISIS and were supported by the US.in July 2017, the city of Mosul was liberated from ISIS and currently has no ISIS-controlled territory in Iraqi territory.
2. False Policies of the US Destabilizing Iraq
Today, the most important problem encountered in terms of stability in Iraq is “the security gap” and “the spiral of violence”. The authority gap that emerged after the invasion of Iraq is one of the conditions that caused the spiral of violence and security problems in Iraq. These problems emerged due to the policies of the US during the occupation process.
The first big mistake the US made in the occupation process is that the number of soldiers is lower than the required number. Although this situation did not pose a problem during the capture of the strategic points in the country and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the coalition soldiers after the occupation suffered quite a lot in order to ensure peace. However, the US authorities were not prepared for the problems they faced after the occupation, and they weren’t even expecting the occupation to move towards a painful process. According to the scenario, the US forces, presumed to be welcomed with flowers, will soon leave the power to the Iraqi politicians in exile, such as Ahmed Celebi; these politicians would rebuild new Iraq within the framework of the US ideals. The ideological view of the American neoconservatives and misinformation by the Iraqi politicians in exile were also influential in this process.
The CPA’s mistakes also contributed to the instability in Iraq. The CPA, as noted above, has terminated many servants who have served the Ba’ath Party, in particular the senior commanders, and among them many have found the remedy to join the ISIS. In addition to the contribution made to ISIS, another mistake of the CPA was to not collect the weapons of the tribes that were strong during Saddam Hussein’s era. These groups continued the armed struggle against the Shiite groups who were strengthening at the level of government so led the country to the brink of civil war.
After the occupation, the wrong attitude of the Coalition Unions against civilians triggered anti-Americanism and created a reason to fight some groups. Finally, the struggle of Sunni groups and some Shiite groups who wanted to save their country from American occupation caused many bloody attacks within the country.
3. Historical Causes of Instability
The British officials who determined the boundaries of the post-Ottoman Arab world were at their most arbitrary in the case of the new state of Iraq. The territories of Iraq, ruled by the Ottoman Empire as three separate states, were brought together by the British. They were among the most ethnically and religiously diverse Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire, and their forced amalgamation into a single country posed exceptionally difficult obstacles to nation building.
For any person who does not know enough about the concept of sectarianism in Islam and the consciousness of identity in the Middle East, it can be difficult to understand eighty percent of the political problems of an Arab country. However, there was no sectarian unity among the Arabs, which accounted for eighty percent of the country. Of the Arabs, 65 percent were Shiites while 35 percent were Sunnis, and the British left the power to the Sunnis. At the same time, twenty percent Kurdish people were added to these. This group who were living in the northern part of the country and connected to Anatolia and Syria in the commercial sense, did not respond positively to the centralization efforts of the country. In fact, the only group opposing centralization efforts was not Kurds. The tribes in the countryside who were accustomed to the Ottoman decentralized administration approach opposed the British attempt to connect themselves to the center. This situation caused the tribal uprisings from time to time.
By 1932, the Iraqi state had gained independence from the British, but the difficulties in its establishment were not solved. Due to the fact that three different regions, which were not related to each other, were seen side by side on the map, the problems of the state which was established together were not problems that could be solved in ten years. The king of the country, Faisal, was not born and did not raise in Iraq. Moreover, it was more difficult to impose the management system of Europe on such a society. In spite of all this, the stability of the country was maintained thanks to Faisal’s resilient personality and good management.
After Faisal died in 1933, his son Ghazi passed away. However, Ghazi was not as talented as his successor Faisal, therefore, the authority of the monarchy in the country had been lost. Since then, the country has been ruled by a group of Sunnis. Everyone in this ruling group, the most famous of whom was Nouri al-Said, was raised by the Ottoman Empire as an officer. These people could not find time to reform their countries because of the power struggle among themselves. As one of the most astute scholars of modern Iraq has noted, instead of the ex-Ottoman officers subduing the old social order, it subdued them and gave them a stake in its perpetuation. In this time, it is not possible to find a government that has survived for a long time.
The period from 1940 to 1945, when the Second World War took place, was a difficult year for Iraq. After Faisal’s death, elites who gained power and thought nothing but their own powers were trying to get along well with the British, but the anti-British of the other parts of the country was increasing rapidly. Since 1936, the army also had a share in the administration, which made things even more difficult.
3.2. Iraq from the Second World War to the Ascension of Saddam Hussein
After the end of the Second World War, there was no incidents of country stability during thirteen years and the status quo established by the British was preserved. However, during this period, although the political problem was not seen in the country, the social problems from the past still could not be solved. The majority Shia community was underrepresented in the political system and resented the concentration of political power and economic benefits in the hands of the Sunnis. The Shia generally opposed Pan-Arabism, knowing that in any Arab federation they would become a marginalized minority. Iraq’s most volatile minority group was the largely Sunni Kurdish community. Engaged in a perpetual struggle for political and cultural autonomy, the Kurds opposed Pan-Arabism and warned that if Iraq entered an Arab union, they would demand an independent Kurdish state.
In 1958, the British-born status quo ended with a military coup led by Brigadier General Abdulkerim Kasim and Iraq entered a completely different political path. This coup revived instability in Iraq and the country was governed by an anti-US and anti-NATO understanding, which gained power through Gamel Abdel Nasser.
One of the most important decision of General Kasim during his time was to allow Moustafa Barzani to enter the country. Kasim wanted to integrate the Kurds with the country and end the hostility. Kasim, who made many promises to the Kurds to solve this problem that could not be solved since the borders were drawn by the British, caused a great rebellion when he failed to fulfill his promises. Kasim’s well-intentioned move caused great damage both materially and morally to his country and this caused a military coup in 1963.
3.3. Saddam Hussein’s Period
The coup that overthrew the monarchy in 1958 launched Iraq into a period of political and social instability. When another coup d’état occurred in 1968—the third such event of the decade—it appeared to be just another in the series of political convulsions that regularly plagued Iraq. However, the 1968 coup brought to power a determined group of individuals who established a stable regime that endured for thirty-five years. The figure who shaped the character of the regime and set its policies was Saddam Husain
Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq was the opposite of Hafiz al-Assad government in Syria. Iraq, which is a Shia country, was ruled by Sunni, and Syria, which is a Sunni, was ruled by Shi’a. Both leaders filled the gaps in the state with people from their sects. The Iraqi Shiites, like the Syrian Sunnis, were not satisfied with this situation.
The Kurds continued to rebel during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Just like Abdulkerim Kasim, Saddam had not kept his promises to the Kurds, which led to the start of a major uprising in 1974. The Kurds continued to resist with the advantage of being settled in the mountains and supported by the Shah of Iran. However, Mohammad Reza Shah, who signed the Algerian agreement with Iraq in 1975, cut the aid to the Kurds and the Kurds had to ask for a ceasefire. The Baghdad government, which did not want to tackle new uprisings in the future, tried to pacify the region by exchanging some of the Kurds in northern Iraq with Arab citizens.
Another problem of Saddam Hussein was the Shiite protests that erupted in 1977. The Shiite community living in the south of the country and preserving their traditional identity was very disturbed by the Sunni domination in the Baghdad government and the pressure of the government on them. The Shiite protests were not as violent as the Kurdish rebellion and as a civil war, but it caused the government to worry. These acts of repression in 1979 occurred just at the time Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran and issued his appeal for Islamic revolution. The Baghdad regime’s uncertainty over the loyalty of its Shia population in the face of the ayatollah’s appeal was one of the factors that led it to invade Iran in 1980. As shown by the Kurdish rebellion and the Shiite protest movement, Iraq’s national unity remained fragile, even after fifty years of statehood.
In the period of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was more stable than in previous periods, except for some attempts in the first decade following the 1968 coup. The Iran – Iraq War also had a great impact on this situation. The war increased the awareness of the Iraqi nation in the country, except in areas where the Kurds live intensively. Saddam Hussein was trying to win the trust of the Shia, even though he was still afraid of a possible Shia rebellion. The Shiites also remained loyal to their country and put their Iraqi identities before their religious consciousness.
3.4. The Turning Point of Saddam Hussein’s Regime: First Gulf War
The Gulf War, which started after Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, is one of the turning points of Iraq’s history. In the 1980s, Iraq, the pupil of the United States, was heavily defeated by the same US-led coalition after the invasion of Kuwait. Following the war, the Iraqi government agreed to destroy weapons of mass destruction, leave some oil wells to Kuwait and pay for war reparations. The defeat in the Gulf War brought enormous material burdens on Iraq, but they were not the only problems. The chaos brought about by the war revived the biggest problem of Iraq, and the Shiites and Kurds rebelled in 1991.
After the Gulf War, the people of Iraq were filled with anger. The Shiite people, who were angry with Saddam Hussein because of the situation they put in their country, started a major uprising under the influence of the soldiers returning from the front and seized many cities in the south. This uprising was not intended to be united with Iran, but would show what would happen in the country if state authority was destroyed. Seventy years after its establishment, Iraq was still not a nation, and not only the Shiites but also the Kurds would show the reality.
A similar scenario unfolded in the Kurdish territories of northern Iraq. Aware of the enormity of the army’s defeat in Kuwait and of the spread of the rebellion in the south, Kurdish leaders decided that this was the opportune moment to seize the autonomy for which they had so frequently struggled. The Kurds, who were quite successful in the beginning of the rebellion, like many Shiites, captured many cities in a short time. Moreover, the Kurds were acting in an organized manner, unlike the Shiites. For this reason, they could go so far as to establish autonomous administrations in the regions they captured.
The two riots were quite successful at first, but they couldn’t take much time with the regular forces coming to the region. The Shiite rebellion was quickly suppressed by soldiers who maintained their loyalty to the regime, and many people were executed. The rebellion of the Kurds was soon resolved, but like the previous uprisings, the Peshmerga withdrew to the mountains and resisted further than the Shia. The withdrawal of the rebels into the mountains, caused the civilian population remain unprotected and 2 million people fled to Turkey and Iran. The most often stated reason for the Kurds’ flight was their fear of extermination at the hands of a regime that had used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988.
Two of the most important decisions taken after the Gulf War were taken to protect Shiites and Kurds in the country. The strong reaction of the Iraqi government to the post-war riots led the United States and its allies to take measures and the Iraqi air force was forbidden to fly to the north of the 36th Parallel and to the south of the 32nd parallel. However, these measures were not enough to protect the innocent people in Iraq. Apart from the civil war, there were many other problems that would destroy the Iraqi people. During the war, almost all of the country’s infrastructure facilities disappeared and problems such as lack of food and medicine led the Iraqi people to disaster. The child mortality rate has increased fivefold, and the population were trying to survive in poverty. The elite segment of the country was not affected much by these problems and the people close to the government did not give up their luxury lives. All these problems caused the Shiites and the Kurds to close more within themselves, and sense of nation consciousness was destroyed completely.
A strong state brings peace, comfort and prosperity to society; protects individual safety of people. The Iraq War in 2003 and the Gulf War before it shattered the state structure of Iraq and ended the people’s faith in the state. Under the authority of the state, de facto, the ethnic and religious groups that existed unequally, became equal after the war. But this situation, as Thomas Hobbes stated in the Leviathan, gave rise to a climate of insecurity and war. With the resulting war situation, the balance between the subgroups changed and thanks to their crowded population, the Shia became the ruler of the state for the first time, and the gap between the subgroups increased. After more than fifteen years after the war, it cannot be said that the deteriorating order was rebuilt. People still continue to define themselves as subordinates, as they did on the first day, and in many ways the country is still unstable.
The biggest reason for the country’s drifting into such a chaos is undoubtedly the wrong occupy of America and the wrong policies it pursues after the occupation. However, the US’s mistakes only revealed problems hidden under the carpet. In other words, the impact of the killing of the Austrian heir to the beginning of the First World War is very similar to the impact of the US occupation of Iraq to the chaos. The situation in which Iraq entered the post-war period was the result of the fact that the problems that have existed since the creation was not solved. If Iraq could have succeeded in becoming a nation within the time elapsed since its borders, we could talk about a different scenario after the war. As a result of the gathering of the Iraqi people around the Iraqi flag, it could soon be recovered and there would be no danger of civil war.