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The US did not deliberately create ISIS. But there would have been no ISIS but for American missteps and incompetence during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Before we invaded in 2003, there were no armed Islamist groups like ISIS in Iraq. As horrible as Saddam Hussein was, he had at least managed to keep a lid on them. Then we invaded, removed Saddam from power, and the Pentagon failed to issue the necessary orders for securing property. That led to widespread looting and a nearly instantaneous social breakdown in the absence of minimal security.
Then the Coalition Provisional Authority geniuses we put in charge of running Iraq thought it would be a great idea to disband the Iraqi army—an act that instantly put hundreds of thousands of heavily armed young men, with nothing to do, out on the streets and out of anybody’s control.
Then, to triple down on the stupid, we implemented a “de-Baathaification” purge, along the lines of the de-Nazification that followed the defeat of Germany, notwithstanding glaring differences between the scope and reach of the Nazi party in Germany, and the toothless haplessness of the Baath party in Iraq. That removed thousands of technocrats and bureaucrats necessary for the routine functioning of government, and wrecked its ability to deliver basic services such as electricity, garbage removal, or furnishing the minimal safety necessary to keep schools open.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for a complete collapse of law and order and a series of insurgencies spanning most of the country. And our incoherent response—waves of random arrests that swept both foe and would-be friend; a plethora of checkpoints manned by nervous, confused and frequently trigger happy troops who shot up cars full of innocents; frequently indiscriminate use of firepower that piled up “collateral damage;” and numerous instances of abuse and even outright massacres that were often unpunished, added fuel to the fire.
The insurgency began attracting foreign Islamist fighters from all over for jihad tourism in Iraq. Something that hadn’t happened in decades of Saddam’s rule, did within months of U.S. rule. Even Al-Qaeda, which had no prior presence in Iraq, opened up a branch office, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which quickly became one of the most virulent and bloodthirsty of the insurgent groups. It even set up a proto statelet, openly governing some regions in western Iraq—the same ones where ISIS would get its start a few years later.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was eventually beat down, but its surviving members, such as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, would go on to form ISIS soon as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. Helped in no small part by America’s final gift: the U.S. trained Iraqi army, a sad sack and astonishingly incompetent, corrupt and cowardly mob—something I addressed in my answer to Why is the Iraqi army losing Abrams tanks so easily?
In short, we didn’t set out to create ISIS, but we screwed up so bad that the emergence of ISIS or something equally bad was inevitable.
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