With the advent of ISIS, a powerful Islamist group that has taken swathes of Iraq in a matter of months, there has been a huge call to again intervene so as stop ISIS creating a new caliphate and massacring the local non-Muslim populace. However, these calls fundamentally ignore the history of what our involvement in Iraq has already caused. By intervening again, we will simply provide more propaganda for ISIS, thus creating more anti-American sentiment among the Sunni populace that resides in ISIS territory. It seems once again that the military-industrial complex and their complicit politicians in many Western countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, has a vice like grip on foreign policy, saying either we intervene with boots on the ground or we allow ISIS to become an unprecedentedly powerful group that can threaten Western civilisation. However, instead of taking these statements as gospel, we must look at what previous involvement in Iraq has achieved.
When we look at Western involvement in Iraq, we see a chequered history of continually supporting one side or the other, whether it be providing weapons to Kurdish fighters in the 70s to fight the Ba’athist regime or providing support for Saddam Hussein in the 80s during the Iran-Iraq War, to then making inflated claims in 2002 that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had aided al-Qaeda terrorists involved in 9/11. What this record seems to show is a failure to help the Iraqi population in any meaningful way, so why should this new intervention be any different. What can actually be achieved by putting troops back into Iraq. Some say with our help the Kurds and what remains of the Iraqi army can push back ISIS and crush them. However, we tried this tactic in Afghanistan and what happened, an Islamist group that had governed for five years quickly turned into a guerrilla group that created a protracted, difficult war that after 12 years of fighting resulted in the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban. If this is the case with a similar Islamist group, then we can see what will become of ISIS. They will decentralise themselves and still provide services to many areas of Iraq, thus winning their propaganda war and meaning Western troops put back into Iraq will have minimal support from the local population, much like what occurred the last time we invaded. And speaking of propaganda wars, if we do choose to reoccupy Iraq we will provide even more propaganda for ISIS to proliferate.
To understand ISIS, we must look at how they developed. What we see is an opportunistic Sunni leader who saw an opportunity to find support for a radical Islamist vision among a population that had endured the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the installing of a Shia-led government (by the occupational forces) that turned out to be no friend of the Sunni population. Frankly the propaganda spread by al-Qaeda in Iraq and continued by ISIS had written itself, as Maliki turned out to be a Shia variation of Hussein. We have to understand that while the leaders of these Islamist terrorist groups are opportunistic and are looking to make their blueprint for a jihadist state a reality, the people who fight under them are just sick of American intervention in their affairs and have come to believe these fringe clerics are the answer to them being allowed to return to a normal life. If Western leaders choose to occupy again we will see that ISIS can further win the hearts and minds of Sunni populations and tribal leaders, who have been kept out of government and persecuted under the US backed Maliki. And it’s not like ISIS will be unable to capitalise on these propaganda opportunities, as their ability to co-opt social media has shown. In the end if we want to create a protracted, never-ending conflict in Iraq that provides no benefit to Western nations and allows for ISIS to win the hearts and minds of the Sunni populace, then we should reoccupy and watch Iraq further fall into chaos.
However, just because it has been painted that military action is the only action available, it isn’t. David Cameron’s provision of humanitarian aid to the brutalised Yazidi and Iraqi Christian populations has been an intelligent move, as it doesn’t fuel ISIS’s propaganda campaign and is a genuine attempt to help the persecuted people under ISIS control. Further, we should be putting pressure on the new Iraqi government to open dialogue with Sunni tribal leaders, who have in many cases allowed ISIS to take control as they see it as an opportunity to regain lost political and economic power that Maliki took from them. While these actions will not stop ISIS in its tracks, it will mean that they will lose local support as tribal leaders move away from warily backing ISIS and will not allow for ISIS to have a vice-like grip on the local Sunni populace.
As a final word, I say that for the sake of common sense and as a way of actually learning from our mistakes, the West should not once again become involved in Iraq.