Quora Question: Who Is Responsible for the Mess in Iraq?

Iraqi security forces and armed volunteers move with military vehicles during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Reuters

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Answer from Jon Davis, Sergeant of Marines, Iraq vet, weapons instructor.

Who isn't responsible for Iraq? Honestly, this is a good question.

For those of us in the West, the answer is pretty simple, "Let's just stay out and let them handle themselves while we take care of the new season of Orange is the New Black." Many quickly, far too quickly, just dismiss the situation as Bush's Folly, though few put any real thought into understanding exactly what is going on well. Still many more just say, "They've been killing each other like that for thousands of years." Well, I am not going to touch that, but at least answering back some of the big points of the last twenty years could be worth some time.

The United States

Since I was a Marine who was there in 2005 and 2007, I feel uniquely qualified to go ahead and be the guy who says it. This one is obvious and to ignore it is tantamount to a complete denial of some very key points in history. Honestly, if I didn't start off with this, most of you would never have read it.  The point is simple and undeniable, Iraq would not be like it is today if the American led Coalition had not gone into the country in 2003.

This, of course, is true on a factual basis. Most likely Saddam would now be a very old man and perhaps either of his sons Qusay or Uday would be in charge. We remember Uday right? His career of rape, torture and murder was so bad they made a movie about his body double called The Devil's Double. Even though daddy was bad enough by wiping out entire cities of Kurdish citizens with chemical based weapons of mass destruction, Uday would probably be putting Kim Jong Il to shame, by now.

But I am deviating. Back to America the guilty. America was responsible for destroying the central working government of the Nation of Iraq. Perhaps today a maniacal tyrant would be in charge, but they would be getting a nice dose of state owned media (Uday, after all, was in direct ownership of the media back in 2003.) While the first three months of Iraq represented the most astounding feat of military superiority and execution, what followed was blunder after blunder of political ineptitude. What follows is an excerpt from my answer to War in Iraq (2003-11): With the benefit of hindsight, should America have invaded Iraq in 2003?:

... Bremer was the American administrator of Iraq installed shortly after the war. This guy was really under-qualified for the role of governor of a combat zone. His resume is from business and while he was a real "go-getter" he never had any experience with international affairs and didn't even bother to take any Arabic-speaking aids with him. Among his few policies were two that had completely devastating consequences to the success of the war effort. The first, dubbed de-Ba'athification, was an order to fire everyone in the government who was in the Ba'ath party. 'They're the bad guys, right?' you might say, but to put a comparison to this it would be like if Obama became President and fired everyone in the government who was Republican. The "bad guy" chief officers are gone, but so are a great deal of the military, police, doctors, teachers, social workers, engineers and sanitation staff. Most of the most important jobs were now empty of the talent necessary to run them. Idiot. Second was his order to disband the entire Iraqi military. As I mentioned before, a large military is necessary to secure the population after a governmental collapse. So let's just get rid of the most easily accessible military force that we could use for such a policing action. Idiot.

L. Paul Bremer was the fat kid in the candy store whose mother told him, "You deserve this, Honey." He was completely irresponsible with his decision making, applying Cold War anti-communist tactics to the international Ba'ath Party believing the US military could somehow overcome every one of his ridiculous policies shortcomings with omnipotent force.

What happened next was a combination of factors. A lot of people were pissed. They had been disenfranchised and without jobs. The infrastructure was collapsing by the day and there was really no hope. I'd be pissed too. This was the start of a very large chain reaction that would have many, many problems to deal with down the line.

That chain ended with the complete pull-out of American forces. I would like to say that we are to blame for that too, but really I don't think that is completely fair to say. Sure, some might say they did a great thing by getting out of the country, though I don't think they are bragging as much now, but really, we were forced out. I really don't know why the Obama administration took credit for what was essentially a choice made by the people of Iraq in the only successful democratic choice they ever came together to make, but I suppose that doesn't matter.

The truth of the matter is that the coalition did what it did and then had to leave, leaving a massive power vacuum in the country, particularly in Al Anbar. That sort of brings us to today.

Saddam Hussein

Oh, that's right. Forgot about that a-hole. Can't really talk about today without talking about him. It seems that we would be remiss if we just said, "Blame 'Merca!" without first acknowledging what is still the worst thing to happen to Iraq since the Mongols. So let's try and get a grip on how bad this guy was.
  • Reprisal Against Dujail - ...Approximately 1,500 other townspeople, including children, were rounded up and taken to prison, where many were tortured. After a year or more in prison, many were exiled to a southern desert camp. The town itself was destroyed; houses were bulldozed and orchards were demolished.
  • Anfal Campaign - ...Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled the area, yet it is estimated that up to 182,000 were killed during the Anfal campaign. Many people consider the Anfal campaign an attempt at genocide.
  • Chemical Weapons Against Kurds - Beginning in the morning on March 16, 1988 and continuing all night, the Iraqis rained down volley after volley of bombs filled with a deadly mixture of mustard gas and nerve agents on Halabja. Immediate effects of the chemicals included blindness, vomiting, blisters, convulsions, and asphyxiation. Approximately 5,000 women, men, and children died within days of the attacks.
  • Invasion of Kuwait - On August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invaded the country of Kuwait. The invasion was induced by oil and a large war debt that Iraq owed Kuwait. The six-week, Persian Gulf War pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991. As the Iraqi troops retreated, they were ordered to light oil wells on fire. Over 700 oil wells were lit, burning over one billion barrels of oil and releasing dangerous pollutants into the air. Oil pipelines were also opened, releasing 10 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and tainting many water sources. The fires and the oil spill created a huge environmental disaster.
  • Shiite Uprising & the Marsh Arabs - As supposed punishment for supporting the Shiite rebellion in 1991, Saddam Hussein's regime killed thousands of Marsh Arabs, bulldozed their villages, and systematically ruined their way of life. The Marsh Arabs had lived for thousands of years in the marshlands located in southern Iraq until Iraq built a network of canals, dykes, and dams to divert water away from the marshes. The Marsh Arabs were forced to flee the area, their way of life decimated.

Yeah, that's right. Presumedly, this guy would still be in charge. We are talking about a man who openly idolized the former Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. He was guilty of political oppression, attempts of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution. Under his reign, as many as 800,000 Iraqis may have lost their lives. If you include all sources of violence during the Iraq War, which means the Americans, Iraqi police and military, insurgency and anyone else with an ax to grind, Saddam still outpaced the killing of his own people by a margin of more than two to one. Seriously, at the rate Iraqis died in the nine years of the War in Iraq more than twice as many people would have to die to match the annual killing of Saddam during his twenty three years in office.

And now for why Iraq is his fault. Not only did he completely disenfranchise entire populations that he didn't attempt to wipe off the map, but he fractured a country which was more than ready to erupt upon itself at the first chance. He marginalized the Shia Arab majority while leading genocidal campaigns against the Kurdish people. He created major divisions while implementing minority rule. I've never seen that situation end well once the word "democracy" started getting whispered.

Not only this, but he built up massive facilities for the purpose of producing chemical based weapons of mass destruction. I know, I can already hear all the WMD deniers out there skipping to my comments section for a rage rant now. The point here is that a weapon of mass destruction doesn't always involve a mushroom cloud. Only in Cold War movies are nukes the only type of WMD in existence. A weapon which can be packed into a barrel and pushed out of the back of a helicopter to kill an entire village in a vomiting, seizing fit is, in fact, a WMD.

These are exactly the types of weapons we said should be outlawed when Assad was using them in Syria against, ironically, the fanatical jihadists now taking over Iraq. In an even more ironic twist, Saddam's old chemical weapons manufacturing facilities were just taken over after a decade of disuse by none other than the nation of terrorists, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL. Fantastic! Thanks Saddam, your contributions to the human race are noted.

Islamic Fundamentalism

Is such an answer complete without talking about the three hundred pound gorilla in the room?

There is a strain of the religion that finds itself collecting a great deal of support among a lot of really crazy scary people. It pushes for a return to a medieval style of Islamic government theocracies where Islam is the chief religion. Christians and Jews have it better off than most by just paying hefty taxes for their faith, never being allowed to worship openly nor fix their places of worship should they fall into disrepair, ever, but that is far better than people who don't believe in the God of Abraham. All the rest are essentially put to death by beheading.

In fact, most problems seem to be handled with beheading. It's kind of the thing to do, as I understand. If not beheading then stoning, forced amputations, female mutilation, honor killings, or, what is growing more and more popular, mass graves riddled with AK-47 fire. Honestly, in Iraq right now, the death by violent acts has skyrocketed to a conservative reporting of at least three thousand in the last month. This is due mostly to the growth of one ISIL, previously mentioned, taking over the former Al Anbar province and much of northern Iraq. They are essentially driven by the dream of creating a newly minted Islamic state, which they've done a pretty good job of so far, where they can literally force their beliefs on anyone they can subjugate.

While in Iraq, I knew a man who served as one of our translators. He summed up his region's problems like this:

"They aren't even practicing Islam! They just go out into the desert and recruit a bunch of ignorant goat farmers with all sorts of promises and then they become terrorists. "

The real danger behind the Jihadists is that no one is more uncompromising. There is an infinite supply of people who are dumb enough to join a fight for a religion they don't truly understand. All you need is a bona fide religious leader to bless the action. There you have it. You have invoked the spirit of Heaven to sanctify a person's belief that what they are doing is righteous. Now you run into the fact that many of these people are absolutely loyal to an unquestionable hierarchy. They will literally be able to follow someone's order to the death because, hey, that is when they get to cash in the big reward. At least the West has to have a justifiable reason and risk analysis when putting its people in danger, but not a fundamentalist. Everything you thought was rational goes out the door for these people.

So you have God basically saying that anything you do is OK and to "make a deal" with the democratic government next door is sacrilege. Any crime isn't really a crime because it furthers your goals, which your perverted idea of God is cool with, and finally even if you die it's OK, so long as you take a couple of others with you.

This would be considered bad enough if it wasn't for the fact that now, after thirteen years of fighting terrorism, there is now a whole country of them that essentially means we lost the war. Where they are going to go from there, who can tell? All I know is that no righteous God could be happy with what is being done over there in His name.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

If this question is saying, "Who is responsible for why Iraq is going through right now, June 2014?" these are the guys you are looking for.
ISIL is an unrecognized state and active jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as an independent state, it claims the territory of Iraq and Syria, with implied future claims intended over more of the Levant, including Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Cyprus, and Southern Turkey.

The group in its original form was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organizations, the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the insurgent groups Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal Sunnah and Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, and a number of other Iraqi groups that profess Sunni Islam.

ISIL is renowned for its harsh interpretation of Islam and brutal violence, which is directed particularly against Shia muslims. It has at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks who, in addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians. ISIS had close links with al-Qaeda until 2014, but in February of that year al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, declaring that it was "too extreme".

ISIL's original aim was to establish a caliphate in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq. This later expanded to include controlling Sunni-majority areas of Syria as a result of ISIS's participation in the Syrian Civil War and the spillover from the Syrian Civil War.

Al-Qaeda said they are "too extreme"? Wow, this world is going to hell in a handbasket. Essentially, ISIL has created a medieval nation state that is gobbling up chunks of Northwest Iraq along with sizeable portions of Syria, claimed during the war with Assad. This region includes many bases built up by the United States Marines during their occupation. They have already secured numerous military installations and cities in Al Anbar province and along the Tigris and Euphrates, Saddam Hussein's largest chemical weapons manufacturing facility and nation's largest oil refinery. They also captured, last week, Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, along with looting its central bank for about USD $450,000,000. Some estimates by Economist state that pseudo-state is valued at over $2 billion USD in assets. For perspective, Al-Qaeda operated on about $30 million prior to 2001. Now we have what seems to be an entire country of murder hungry jihadists and terrorists and no one gives a damn.

I wonder what will happen twenty years from now.

Neoconservative Ideology

I know I already said the US, but it really breaks up into parts. One of those parts is the mentality of Neoconcervative Republicans at the time of 2003. I'm not one of those people who is going to say that a regime that became the most powerful alliance in the most powerful nation on Earth is stupid, but on the best day, they seem to have been the wrong people to solve this problem. Most of the time, I vote red myself, but to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What I wonder is if the ruling regime of the Republican party after a few decades of success got a bit too over zealous. What needs to be considered is this, they were fine, but exactly wrong for this situation.
Neoconservatives promote an interventionist foreign policy to promote democracy and defend Israel. They were the strongest supporters of the Iraq War in 2002-11; many of these 'neocons' were originally considered to be liberals or were affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party in earlier days. Neoconservatives have been credited with importing into the Republican party a more active international policy. Neoconservatives are willing to act unilaterally when they believe it serves a moral position to do so, such as the spread of democracy.

Neoconsertivism was considered by many a branch of more liberal idealists who broke off and joined in with the Republican party. From there, the movement evolved to have a belief that it was necessary for the reigning hegemony to exert direct influence in the form of direct military maneuvering or other "hard diplomacy" initiatives in the name of preserving peace. You can see this in the long going growth of American military bases abroad to keep various regions from erupting and secure trade lines.

One thing to remember though, is that in November 2000, the big thing to talk about was taxes and education. A regime that was elected to try to help the economy continue to grow in the wake of a terrifying dot com bubble and fix a declining education situation was suddenly then presented with the worst shock to the world in fifty years. I'm just sayin', that's a lot to deal with.

They then sent in almost enough people to get the job done in Afghanistan, pretty much wiping out the troops present, but failing to stem the tide of fresh recruits from elsewhere (Pakistan). That was somewhat, sorta considered a success when the focus turned to Iraq. There was a lot going wrong there, including the presence of Al-Qaeda camps and recruiting. A closer look would have shown that that sort of thing existed in many places besides just Iraq. Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, for example, would be places on that list. Following the rush of support from 9/11, I could see the case being made that it was a rational choice to also clear up that snake pit that was Iraq before us. You guys remember Iraq in 2000? We said it in the same sentences with Cuba and North Korea.

Still, overcome with a want to invade Iraq to solve all the problems of Iraq was probably a dumb idea. The fact that it was poorly executed on an epic scale didn't help either. Trying to be too cheap and too efficient while basically revolving your whole strategy on the Iraqi people getting on board because it was the obvious choice was just hubris.


Let's ask a gut check question. Were you really watching the news for the last thirteen years? Let's check that one. Do you not know why the Taliban has not been mentioned throughout this entire post? No, not really sure? How about this... What is "twirking?" Yeah, you haven't been paying attention to the real news.

I remember a saying a Sergeant I had back in 2007 told me once. We were talking about the war, a thing we often did, being that we were active players in it.  He said that America isn't at war. The Marines were at war. Americans are at the mall.

It was true. Think about it. How has the daily lives of anyone been changed in the last decade? Was anyone asked to donate or buy war bonds? Were there any new taxes levied to pay for it? Did you have to ration anything? Were you even asked to miss one single episode of "The Voice" in all that time? Tougher question: Do you know anyone who served? One thing I noticed when I suddenly got to take part in a game involving much more wealthy players than I was used to, was the fact that none of the wealthy and connected knew anybody who served in the military. I was like a magical unicorn or something that they all assumed had magical powers. That means you're disconnected people. So I have to ask, did we, as Americans, have any sort of real role in the fight?

No. We griped. It's what we do. We shop and we gripe. We are awesome at deducing problems, but it's usually up to someone else to fix them, and Iraq was full of problems for us to gripe about. The dead soldiers and Marines were used by one party to show how bad the war was, right up until the party lines switched and the same arguments were made again. My question though, how many of you who are reading this actually ever met a person who died in Iraq? Yes, genius, I mean that you knew them before they were killed. How many did you shake hands with for any reason? Of course I knew a few, but the one that hurt the most was the guy who played football right next me for years in High School. Of course I went to a poor rural high school, which, statistically speaking explains why I knew him and you didn't. Still, did you know anyone? I'm sorry if you did, but the point is that so very many of the people who gripe about the war use their loss to prove an agenda, when in reality, they probably wouldn't be seen with such types.

And that is the problem, the war really didn't mean anything over here except talking points and agenda pieces. No one actually cared. The moment that the guy you wanted was in office, it's like no one cared at all.

But why is it that this problem is the fault of Americans? Well democracy is a beautiful thing. Everyone gets exactly the government they deserve. All the choices related to America or in her name, they're all our fault. It was either our apathy or incompetence that caused the bad decisions we now point our all knowing fingers at. Awesome. Enjoy your pretzel the next time you go to the mall. Sorry for being a downer.

The United Nations

So apparently the UN Secretary General sorta', kinda' said that he believed the invasion of Iraq was an illegal action. That's nice. I suppose that explains why the UN never sent in security forces to help stabilize the nation. Sort of a huge way of saying, "Your mess, you clean it up." I'm just sayin' that it would have sure prevented a lot of needless death if the world community didn't just sit and watch it happening while sanctimoniously pointing the guilty finger at the US and UK.

And what is this about the war being illegal? Apparently a full eighteen months after the war started, it was decided that it was illegal. I'm serious, the SECGEN of the UN didn't make his "Illegal" statement until September of 2004. The invasion was in March of 2003. What took so damn long to figure this out?

It's just me, but if I rob a bank, it doesn't take the police a year and a half to determine that it was illegal. Secondly, it doesn't explain why at least five resolutions calling for "immediate actions" were voted on and passed by the UN Security Council. What seems to be the case is that the UN sat around, talked, talked, talked, a war happened, they talked, talked, talked, talked, the war isn't going so well, talked, talked, talked, "This wasn't legal."

If anything, it plays out as if the UN was simply trying to exonerate themselves from the center of the debate in which their absence was blatantly obvious to those of us who were there.

Basically, the whole event showed the UN's inefficacy and unwillingness to act when action was necessary, whether it was before the war or after, when intervention by more than just the Americans and UK was needed. List off all the international legal justifications you like. The world's only truly international peacekeeping force was completely absent from the most dangerous war zone of a decade, and by proxy, the international population proved an apathetic self-righteousness. No offense, but many simply patted themselves on the back while Iraq burned. It seemed more important to be right than it did to actually help Iraq.

So bravo UN. The people of Iraq are in your debt for... absolutely nothing.

The Iraqis

Yeah, the people of Iraq have a huge role in their own self-collapse. I mean you were basically handed a country with only one string attached; No Religious State! Whatever your belief in why we went to Iraq, one of the stated goals was to bring democracy to the country. What is the first thing they manage to do after ten years of democracy? Kick out the one source of stability they had.

Right now, I am only speaking from experience with the people there. I doubt you will find this in print in many places. I am just saying what I saw. There was no passion whatsoever in fixing the problems themselves. When dealing with training up the Iraqi Defense Forces, I was shocked at the poor training and discipline standards they upheld upon themselves.

I've heard that we are to blame for that too on a cultural level. Apparently, in some parts of the world, if you take over an area, you are responsible for them, all-in-all, from that day on. Wait, we didn't sign on for that. Still, there were many Iraqi who acted as if it was our responsibility for providing them with every measure of luxury and freedom that they deserved.

Meanwhile, I really didn't see anyone pushing down the door to help. I mean in twenty three years, hundreds of thousands had been killed and no one really seemed to care. The moment we arrived the whole place seemed to erupt into anarchy where even basic civility couldn't be expected upon by the basic population. Within days museums were looted, homes and businesses were robbed and I guess the Americans are to blame for that. I mean, which was worse for the Iraqi, the Americans or themselves?

Add to this that in the years that followed, no strong leadership formed, besides of course fanatical Sunni clerics. There was no real effort to band together to fight the insurgency, it was just something no one was willing to do. Rebuilding after a terrorist blew up a building? Not really a major priority. It blew my mind. I don't know why. It just didn't seem like any of them really had hope of making anything worthwhile as a home. And you also want to know a nasty fact, most everyone killed in Iraq was not from American "collateral damage" as many seem to think. Even the popular site Iraq Body Count shows very blatantly that the vast majority of those killed were done so by other Iraqi insurgents. Consider events like Yazidi bombings, the deadliest event of the war. More than 700 people were killed in a day by suicide bombings. It was madness and it was the Iraqi attacking each other. Honestly, the worst thing in the world could have happened and the Iraqi wouldn't get mad at the insurgents. No one could find them. It was the Americans fault. The Americans would rebuild the hospital/school/store/ext and then someone would blow it up again... still America's fault.

It is like they had no ownership of the country. Perhaps that is why you can't just hand a country to people. I just don't know if they want to rule themselves. You look back at history, they haven't really had that much power to choose their own destiny. I mean it took nine years for them to make a government that they halfway believed in enough to say to the Americans, "We got this, you should go." What followed? Less than one month later, Al Anbar, which was previous kept under control by only the United States Marines began being gobbled up by insurgency forces only surviving by hiding out in places like Fallujah and Ramadi. Within a year, a new nation of psychopathic terrorists had just popped out of nowhere. Now, all of Northwestern Iraq has basically eroded as its military retreated to Baghdad for fear of annihilation.

This brings us to a lot of the turmoil happening within Baghdad. As it stands currently, the guy in charge Nouri al-Maliki is facing a lot of international heat. He took office in 2006, which for those of you who don't know, means that he was there, in charge, during the most violent time in the country's recent history, namely the years from 2006 to 2008. He has been in charge ever since, for better or worse. Some of the worse that is involved in that is that his regime, comprised mostly of Arab Shiites, is turning the tables on the Sunni. They spent the last several years justifying their horrible treatment under Saddam with repression of their own in the parliamentary sense of the word. The Kurds were also given less political strength than was rationally justifiable and you can sort of see how it was a perfect storm to see what would eventually manifest itself in June of 2014. Now Maliki is being asked by many to step down and for his successor to lead a more unitarian Iraq, though I really don't know if that would be too little, too late by now.

Now, the Iraqi are responsible for it. I'm hopeful that this whole event will at least solidify the people there and embrace them with some sense of, "Oh wait. I like voting... and my head," and that they are able to come together to do something great. At least it would be nice if they are able to do something that ensures some level of peace in the region for the foreseeable future.

All I can say is that, to say that the Iraqi are innocent bystanders in all this is incorrect. If anything, they are proving to be apathetic to the point of entrusting their destiny to fate, but the longer they go in doing little to nothing to better their own situation, the more their fate is going to be owed to no one but them. As I said before, democracy is a beautiful thing because people get exactly the government they deserve.

The Kurds

Honestly, I don't know how, but the Kurds have to be responsible for something.

That's not true, I just wanted to mention them. They've been awesome in all this. Before the war, they were Saddam's target practice for chemical weapons training and faced numerous attempts to wipe them from the region. When Iraq happened, they basically just took charge and said that they would help by administering and self governing their own territory. They policed it and kept the peace there when the rest of the country was going to pieces. When this new problem of ISIL happened, they provided the line in the sand which the insurgent's couldn't cross. They've done everything to embrace the first opportunity their people have had at a real homeland since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and they deserve respect for that. Unfortunately, most don't even know who they are.

Point being, more than anyone else, they have been innocent in the problems of Iraq, but have done the most toward stabilizing their little corner of the country since the beginning of the Iraq War. So I'm sure that plenty of people hate them for that.

Thanks for reading!

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