When they’re good they’re really good and when they’re bad they’re really bad

This week I intend to illuminate one of the Western political world’s most blatant double standards when it comes to geo-political issues. The issue in question is the relationships that Western nations have with theocratic governments around the world. When I say Theocracy of course, I assume that many readers who happen to live in “Western” nations, through ceaseless discussion in the media and in political spheres, have come to understand Iran as an encapsulating the notion of a theocracy, but how we view several other Middle Eastern nations with almost identical governments is a little more questionable. In the process of discussing how the current state of affairs came to be I will inevitably dip into the history of how theocracy in its current form came to be a popular movement in the world and will doubtless come to speculate on the dangers posed by all theocracies in the near future.

The history of theocracy as we understand it, certainly in the middle east, began during the earliest phases of the Cold War in Iran. The year was 1951 and the starting gun that sounded which began theocratic movements was the policy of the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, to nationalise Iranian oil production, in the process depriving British oil companies of funds they felt they were entitled to.

After Mossadegh’s movement towards nationalising the countries oil resources was initially ratified in the Hague as a legal action, a clandestine movement began to overthrow Mossadegh and re-instate the Shah (the traditional leader of the country) in a supreme position of power. The clandestine movement to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran was, you’ve guessed it, initiated by an organisation who’s raison d’être was seemingly the planning of hair-brained coups, the CIA. In a bizarre twist however to the usual story of CIA ineptitude, the coup was actually a success and in place of Mossadegh now sat the dictatorial Shah Reza Pahlavi. What followed was a prolonged attempt by a western backed secular dictator to modernise Iran along Western lines which proved highly unpopular with many aspects of Iranian society. Whether the reason for the unpopularity of the modernisation programme was the break neck pace at which the Shah’s reforms were due to take place or whether it was the repressive way in which the Shah dealt with any who dissented against his rule, from both left and right of the political spectrum, we will never know exactly and will simply have to remain content to know that generally speaking the regimes movements were highly unpopular. After 25 years on the throne, the damn finally burst and a massive wave of protest, headed to some degree by religious movements as one of the most repressed social group under the Shah’s secular rule, deposed the Shah and seized control of Iran. After the revolution had successfully disposed of the former government, a vote was held and Iran officially became an Islamic republic and the worlds first theocracy as we currently understand the term. It is important that I point out here that the action which started this whole chain of events was not some innate love on the part of Iranians or by further extension, Muslims for governments based on their religion of choice, it was the imperialistic actions of dying empire trying to ensure that it could first of all, continue to plunder mineral wealth from the developing world and secondly, to prevent a government that had its own peoples interests at heart “going over” to communism. It was these two rationales that informed the British and American decision to re-impose an unpopular leader on the Iranian people who eventually coalesced around religion in defiance of the Shah. Politicians here can offer endless platitudes about the “evil” that the Iranian clerics and Hezbollah represent all they want, but they must never be allowed to forget that it was the West’s meddling hands that directly created the environments in which such movements and peoples developed.

The story however did not end there. After the Iranian revolution had successfully purged itself of the last vestiges of the Shah’s regime, genuine fears were expressed throughout the west that much like the French revolution before it that the revolution would spread and overthrow more Western allies in the process. Adding to these concerns, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah a crisis of sorts developed between the USA and Iran as armed groups stormed the American embassy in Tehran in search of documents which proved that the CIA had been directly involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh in the 1953 coup. It as this point in time that the seeds of mutual distrust and discord were sowed in both the USA and Iran and goes some way towards explaining how relationships between the two nations have remained so poor over the years. Further adding to the strained relationship between the West and Iran was a period, where during a protracted mutual antagonism between Iran and Iraq, many Western nations flooded neighbouring Iraq with weapons to prevent the spread of an Iranian style theocracy to another critical nation in the chain of oil supply.  This flow of weapons and support for Saddam Hussein likely lengthened the conflict much past the initial battles, to the point where in the end the war between Iran and Iraq lasted 8 long years with thousands butchered mindlessly for no major gain to either country. Alongside arming the neighbouring dictator, the Western world also engaged in a more subtle form of conflict with Iran in the form of economic blockades in an attempt to get Iran to play along with Western economic interests, economic blockades which have pretty much been a constant reality of life in Iran ever since with sanctions taking the place of the blockade in recent years. While the West intended through both of the above measures to subject Iran and principally the Iranian clerics to a position of economic and political inferiority, arguably both measures helped to cement the religio-nationalist movement in its position of power which it continues to hold unto this day.

During the same time period, events were afoot in neighbouring Afghanistan which eventually lead to the foundation of a theocratic government there. At this time, Afghanistan had recently undergone a revolution of its own, which unlike the Iranian one moved away from religion and towards a far more socialist approach to government. As the Saur revolution swept to power it became closely linked with the Soviet Union, who of course were happy to have another state on their Christmas card list, which only extended really to nations who cited Marx as a basis for their constitutions. Anyway, from the moment that a socialism-inclined government came to power and developed ties with Moscow, the loving care bear peace president of the United States Jimmy Carter signed directives to begin covert support for anti-government movements in Kabul. Eventually things came to a head when American and Pakistani backed Islamist militants, who were angry with government attempts to secularize the country, attempted to overthrow the Afghan government, which precipitated a greater period of instability throughout the country. Eventually the Soviet Union intervened in the conflict in an attempt to prop up the socialist government against a broad insurgency which among other elements had a strong religious backing. Anyone with a basic grounding in history knows what happened next now that the Soviet Union had become involved in the conflict, in the usual petty tit for tat that both superpowers waged throughout the Cold War, the USA started giving masses of military and financial aid to a plethora of insurgent groups which did eventually push the Soviet Union out of the country but in the process massively destabilised the country setting the stage for a hard-line religious government to capitalise on the anarchy that was widespread across the whole country at this point in time .

At this point in time I would take care to point out that in both the cases of Iran and Afghanistan prior to the coming to power of theocratic governments, what we can see is western political ideologies creating a vacuum which in both cases a reactionary religious movement has filled. In the case of Iran, to ensure the continuing supply of oil for the Western consumer markets, such market minded capitalism lead to a staged coup which ousted a democratically elected leader and replaced him with a widely hated monarch who however was willing to continue to perpetuate Iran’s economic subservience to Western nations. In Afghanistan we saw a European style socialist government attempt to modernise and secularize the country along the same lines as had been done by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations which led to much popular resentment of the government among the people of the country and later, when the USA and USSR we saw later day imperialism ruin the country and create a lawless state where the rule of the strong would be the only thing capable of maintaining order. These facts demonstrate a clear line of causation between the actions of the West, that is both schools of Western thought – capitalism and communism, and the type of governments that later formed there. The racist rhetoric of the media who assume that somehow that there is an innate love of religious government amongst Muslims is nonsensical and we would do well to begin viewing the situation as it really is with religious governments simply being just one possible option that people who find themselves in desperate situations can turn towards to lead them.

While these two rather well known cases of theocracies were developing however, other nations in the world were also steadily moving towards a theocratic government of sorts under the radar and continue to do so. The countries in question are Israel and the Gulf Arab nations, with the main example being Saudi Arabia. It is true that neither of the two nations I have just named are true theocracies in the dictionary sense of the word defining a theocracy as a “system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.” The above being true though, does not change the fact that both of the nations I mentioned above are nations were God is taken as the ultimate source of the constitution and the laws by which citizens live their lives. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy rule over a nation which is a theocracy in all but name and has been since the day it was first formed from the remnant states left after the Ottoman retreat in the First World War 1. The kingdom is not only a theocracy, but it is a theocracy of the type that gives atheists and secularists nightmares, with many of its laws based upon the most literal translation of thousands of year old texts which advocate many things which of course upset modern sensibilities. The problem with this as a practice, in my opinion at least, is that the laws were never defined by a wide political consensus but based upon the interpretations of holy texts by Religious and Political elites who naturally are inclined towards only creating laws that maintain their elite positions within society. I’m sure for example a majority of Saudi’s would likely feel less offended by adultery or women driving, than the clerics who enforce such laws which have been used to effectively terrorise the people into a miserable state of submission to the state. Of course were the truth of the matter that a wide array of Saudi’s had agreed upon the inclusion of such laws in their constitution then while it would admittedly still gall me then at least democracy had been practised but the theocratic practices of the Saudi monarchy are enforced from the top down with religion not only being a means of finding spiritual peace, as intended, but also a means for the elite to utilise in controlling the people, surely never the intention of any prophet.

In the case of Israel , we have a state which on the surface is even less of a theocracy than any of the three nations I have mentioned above and yet there are many unresolved issues with the country, several of which revolve around the place of religion in society. Central amongst the issues for both religious Zionists and for Palestinian Muslims and Christians that live within the borders of Israel proper is that Israel does not have a written constitution. The problem with a presumptive constitution is that it will inevitably lead to calls for the drafting and creation of a written constitution in the name of simplicity, and it is this drive by many for a written constitution to codify the laws that would govern the state of Israel that is the problem as the question is pondered as to whether the state of Israel is the state of all those within its borders or whether it is Jewish state exclusively for it’s Jewish citizens. This perhaps seems less repugnant to many in the West for example by comparison to the mandatory wearing of a headscarf but when we really get down to pondering the implications of the Israeli state defining itself as a Jewish state then they are just as horrifying. Dying with cancer and in urgent need of treatment to prevent death ? Wait your a Palestinian of the Shia branch of Islam, Sorry no space for you. Nearest school for you children to attend is just a mile down the road ? Sorry, if your a Palestinian Christian then the nearest school for your kids is ten miles away in a run down area of town. Want to keep your business open all day Saturday ? Sorry, Saturday is a holy day that all must observe whether they are religious or not. All of the above scenarios might seem a little far fetched but Israel already has a pitiably poor record when it comes to minority rights and it is entirely possible that, if the state of Israel was officially codified in writing as a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, it would take this definition of itself to its logical conclusion by depriving anyone not of Jewish ancestry of valuable services and facilities.

When we look at countries where religion does play such a fundamental part as the basis of the laws by which society lives it is notable that the West has a very chequered record on this issue with certain theocracies being bad yet others being critical allies. On reflection, I feel Iran was simply unlucky when it became the first true theocracy in the current era in that it came to represent a powerful new political idea that to some degree helped a faltering nation in regaining much pride in itself by standing up to those who would have seen it subjected to their own political and economic interests and priorities. The success and totality with which the Iranian revolution overturned the existing natural order in one of the Middle East’s largest and arguably at the time most powerful nations undoubtedly scared many in the West whose economic and industrial and even cultural strengths to some degree were based almost entirely on access to cheap oil by which to export their goods to world markets and import the raw materials. Oil that is, that primarily came from other Middle Eastern countries  were now the West was worried similar revolutions might sweep to power and give rise to more nations that were willing to stand up to the neo-imperialist economic subjugation of their countries.

And this, as almost no ever says, is were it all went wrong. In true Western style, the nations of the West fed on a diet of poor quality intelligence and their own racist paranoia decided to embrace several other countries who were equally theocratic in nature and turn a blind eye to their barbarity which certainly in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was as bad if not worse that of Iran. In signing this compact with devil the West demonstrated its blatant double standards on moral issues when profits are concerned and must have further reduced its own standing as an entity in the eyes of those that found themselves in countries were their rights were now being abused by corrupt elites in the name of a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion.

If the reader was left unsure by arguments offered above then I simply would ask them to consider the case of Syria, were the West is openly engaged currently in verbally antagonising a secular regime, which has always strived to negate sectarian conflict in its ethnically diverse territotry, and materially supporting some seriously unsavoury characters in their war with the Syrian Army. The reason for this you ask ? Well, the Syrian government is supported by the main bad theocracy, Iran, which we want to replace with a group of extremists who will likely replicate the hell hole that was southern Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the reason we support these groups ? Simply because they represent the interests of and are supported by the good theocracies as exampled by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


The tortured rhetoric of escalation.

Ninety-nine years ago a war began in Europe which did more to define the borders of the Middle East than any other event in history. That war was World War 1, and in a round about way it defined the borders of roughly 8 countries out of a conservative estimate of 16 in the wider region. In defining these borders, it must surely rank as one of histories greatest follies that no inhabitants of any of these countries were involved and that such arrangements were  ultimately made with only the view points of one Englishman and a Frenchman take into account. Imagine China and Japan dictating the borders of European countries ? Are we to assume they would create borders with the other countries’ interests at heart or we would fall down on the side of the most probable response and assume that if one country was asked to define another countries borders that it would do so only in its own interest. History teaches us many things and perhaps an overarching theme to what we can learn by studying the past is that benignity in politics is as good as non-existent. I highlight this particular viewpoint of mine to make clear from the outset for the reader my views on the disastrous effect the purely self-interested policies of the French and British empires had on the middle east and further, continue to have as we can see in the rapidly escalating crisis in Syria. In defining borders in the Middle East, the gentlemen Sykes and Picot had two ingredients with which they worked, land and people. Land is easy from the point of view of a someone tasked with making a nation, it does not protest to the arbitrary lines scribbled across it by the cartographer and without the intervention of people those lines might well last an eternity in quiet peace. Humans are a little different, they do protest the arbitrary lines that cut them off from friends and family and surround them with different ethnic groups and religions and often the results of humans doing so is an incredibly bloody affair. Anyway back the matter in hand, when Sykes and Picot made their borders they operated on a policy of divide and rule with regards the people by empowering minority ethnic groups to hold disproportionate amounts of power at the expense of the majority. when discussing the middle east many often bemoan the fact that seemingly the region is cursed with what seems an inherent taste of violent conflict with both internal and external enemies and depending on the commentator themselves, they will offer any number of potential reasons for this supposed quality. What these arguments about the violent nature of the middle east miss out is that for comparison we always think of our own countries in the west which as a result of events in the past are generally ethnically and culturally homogeneous whereas the middle east in a word is far more heterogeneous in all ways. this heterogeneity is a direct result of the Sykes-Picot agreement and World War 1 and we are seemingly seeing its side effects emerge more and more on a daily basis in Syria, but the the trouble does not end there as the destabilizing effect of the conflict seems to be escalating previously small civil conflict in almost all neighbouring countries, primarily Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey so that we are on the verge of watching another region burned over as a result of the follies of the west. I will now discuss a briefly the emerging situation in each of these countries and highlight the points of concern.


Turkey flag

While I have included Turkey here in my analysis, it is true that of the three countries I mentioned Turkey as it stands has remained relatively free from conflict but none the less there are worrying signs present in the political landscape and further Turkey has many of the ingredients necessary for a civil conflict of it its own. The first point of concern I believe that we should pay attention to is the way in which turkey has involved itself in the Syrian conflict. Turkey has from a very early point in the conflict declared its support for the rebel factions in Syria and has allowed the setting up of a Syrian government in exile amongst its own borders, all of this on top of Turkey having been the primary safe haven for refugees fleeing the conflict. This of course is the official state of affairs but if the rumours many have heard on the grapevine are to be believed then attacks by rebels against the Syrian government forces have been launched from Turkish soil. Further to this another rumour circulating is that after stray mortar shells landed in Turkey that the armed forces used this a pretext for launching raids across the border aimed at their perennial enemies, the Kurds. From all of this evidence we can see that Turkey has become embroiled in the Syrian civil war much like the Gulf Arab states, although unlike the countries of the Gulf, turkey shares a border with Syria that could quite easily facilitate the spread of conflict from one country to the other.  In recent weeks we perhaps had a inkling of this process of the conflict spreading beginning when 2 suicide bombs were detonated in a town on the Turkish border with Syria that killed 43 people. The official story, which I believe should be taken with a pinch of salt bearing in mind the number of stories that haver turned out to be false such as the Syrian governments supposed use of chemical weapons, was that the bombings were carried out by groups linked with the Syrian intelligence service. I feel the Syrian rebels a more likely culprit as they stand to gain much more from the conflict escalating in terms of other governments committing military forces to the conflict or failing this at least an increase in the amount of financial and/or technical support that they will receive from the coalition of countries allied against the Syrian regime. Either way, whoever you believe to be responsible for the bombing the fact remains that the conflict appears to be being waged by neighbouring proxies which does not bode well for peace in Turkey itself. While part of the problems then of turkey stem from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, there are aspects of the Turkish political landscape that may well lend themselves to the fomentation of civil conflict independent of anything going on in neighbouring Syria and it is my concern that a combination of Turkish problems alongside the overspill from the syrian civil war may see the country burn. The main troubling ingredient present in the Turkish landscape is the sizeable Kurdish population whose relations with Ankara have never been particularly jovial as a result of the long history of persecution of the Kurds by the Turkish government and in recent weeks a peace deal of sorts has been signed between the two parties. All it would take is for this deal to break down, which history has shown us in the form of previous truce agreements is likely, and combined with the severely militarised climate of south eastern turkey I would not like to hazard a guess as to what the consequences might be other than to guess that whatever they are they will not be pretty. Ultimately of all the countries I discuss in this article, Turkey is the least likely to suffer but this is very much dependent on how long the conflict rages on for in Syria. If the Syrian civil war ends relatively soon then it is easy enough to see Turkey avoiding any crisis but if the war continues indefinitely then Turkeys level of involvement will only increase commensurate with the age of the conflict.


Lebannon flag

Of three countries I discuss in this post none are more closely interconnected with Syria than Lebanon is. The history of the relationship between the two countries has seen the countries at each others throats on more than one occasion and it has also seen them being the closet of allies. Lebanon has all of the essential ingredients to precipitate the spreading of the conflict into another country. Firstly there is a large bastion of support for Bashar present in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah who are a formidable fighting force and are in all likelihood loathed by the Islamist rebels in Syria as it is a Shia Muslim group. Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon could easily escalate any emerging crisis especially if they are targeted by rebel groups laying low in Lebanon itself which is a significant possibility being as suicide bombings have been conducted in Lebanon since the start of the conflict in Syria with many citing rebel groups as the party responsible. Another factor that makes Lebanon a likely candidate for an overspill of the conflict emerging is the polarisation along sectarian lines of much of Lebanese society. For fifteen years the world saw Lebanon torn apart by brutal sectarian conflict which again like much of the conflict in the middle east was a result of the borders arbitrarily drawn in the carve up of the middle east after world war 1 which placed minority’s in all of the positions of power in many countries. The Lebanese civil war was a particularly bloody affair as it moved away from any meaningful conflict with clear aims towards a conflict of retaliation and reprisal massacres and were the Syrian civil war to spread across its neighbours border then there is no reason to believe that the same would not be true again. Much like Turkey however, the ultimate deciding factor is how much longer the conflict in Syria continues for but unlike Turkey the likelihood that the Syrian civil war  will escalate to the point where its neighbour becomes involved is significantly greater. Another element present in the case of Lebanon is that it has become something of a hub for gulf money making its way into the hands of Syrian rebels and naturally this presents us with the likelihood that alongside this money coming into the country that a far more destabilising import is also entering Lebanese territory in the form of gulf Salafists and other fundamentalists which does not bode well for stability in a country that has never had a particularly strong track record for peace.


Iraq flag

Iraq is very much the odd one here as it is recent history is unfortunately full of conflict so it perhaps seems a bit confusing for me to include it in a list of possible countries that the Syrian civil war may spread to but something serious is in motion in Iraq which seems to very clearly linked to the conflict in Syria. The case of Iraq would always be a problematic one for suggesting it as a place where an Arab Spring type revolution or conflict might take place as its history in the lead up to the region wide event was so fundamentally different with the invasion in 2003 and then many years of sectarian conflict and near enough outright civil war. All of the above being true alongside the Arab Spring that we heard about in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia was an identical movement of protest against the current corrupt regime in Iraq which I can only assume was neglected from the media because they didn’t accept stories coming from Iraq that didn’t involve people being murdered aimlessly by suicide bombers. While a peaceful protest movement aimed to some degree at the liberalisation of the Iraqi political sphere was a great positive for the political landscape there, from very early on the movement become somewhat bogged down in Sectarian divisions with much of the protesting being carried out by the Sunni minority who felt (legitimately) that they had been marginalised by the Shia-Kurdish alliance in government. The main area in which these protests took part was also the predominantly Sunni areas west of Baghdad (Sunni Triangle for those who feel the need to use US army terms at all times) and so what I feel that we can observe in the case of Iraq is a genuine movement for political reform like in all of the other Arab Spring protests which was subverted by sectarian causes much the same as in Syria. Of course that being said one thing that Syria had in its favour before the start of its respective uprising was that it had enjoyed peace within its own borders since the Hama uprising in 1982 whereas Iraq has pretty much literally been torn apart by the sectarian divisions created after the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iraq like the other two countries I have already discussed has been closely connected with Syria in a number of ways since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 such as hosting a large number of refugees who in a bizarre twist of fate decided that they were indeed safer in Iraq were they had fled from in 2003 than they were in Syria in 2011. Another way in which the countries were closely interlinked was that it was reported that amongst the more hard line Islamist elements fighting in Syria were many of the same who had terrorized large swathes of the Iraqi population previously.  Alongside the training that Iraq had provided them with into how to effectively terrorize civilian populations it is also probable that it provided them with a lot of military equipment and perhaps most importantly of all it provided them with a safe haven in the form of the Syrian-Iraqi Desert, a rather inhospitable area which due to the climate is policed A) ineffectively or B) not at all (you choose). This border region will be one of the key factors that could drag Iraq into civil conflict as it has been used once before as a base of resupply for insurgency movements desperate to avoid being traced and it is likely that if its not already being used by Rebels in Syria then it will be soon enough. A further reason I believe that Iraq is standing atop a dangerous precipice at this moment in time with it looking increasingly likely to follow Syria’s example is that much like in the case of Syria in 2011,  prolonged peaceful protests have unfortunately not resulted in any massive changes to the system in Iraq and so violence will come to look more and more like the only solution to the problem. There has been a spike in the last month or so in the number of suicide bombings throughout the country and according to an article published in The Indepedent written by their Iraq specialist Patrick Cockburn some Iraqis believe their civil war has already started. whether that is true or not, the likely scenario is that the porous border between the  current sectarian hell-hole that is Syria and the  recovering sectarian hell-hole that is Iraq will only lead to more blood being spilt. Iraq is probably level with Lebanon in terms of the likelihood that it will become a theatre of the Syrian civil conflict but because of its past experiences you have been warned that what you can expect will be a hell of a lot uglier than the worst of Syria’s fight so far.

The enemy of my enemy…

Last week, a most unsurprising development in the Syrian civil war was announced in the news which then was presumably followed by much agonised chin scratching in western political circles who’s narrative regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria prior to said announcement had been relatively simple considering the convoluted nature of the crisis. The announcement that I make reference to is that of the Al-Nusra Front declaring themselves for Al-Qaeda which was surely news to no-one yet hit with devastating force none the less as people perhaps began to wake up and see that again foreign policy is all to often dictated by the proverb that I have used as the title for this post and that once again in Syria we are in bed with a group we barely understand. In years to come I genuinely fear that this saying will only gain in poignancy as we reflect on the legacy of the Arab Spring which despite holding such dreamy promises in its early days seems to have mutated into something bearing a greater resemblance to a nightmare. While many forces have been at work throughout the ongoing Arab Spring, this mutation of the idealistic revolution into something resembling more on a daily basis the revolutions of France and Russia is in all likelihood due in no small part to the part that has been played by Western actors who have armed factions with whom they shared all too convenient hatreds. In this post I intend to discuss notable times where the sentiments of this proverb have been applied and will demonstrate that each time it has been used that the results are always as spectacularly disastrous for innocent lives and show further that the Arab Spring is seemingly no different.

Perhaps the most notable case in relatively recent history of the use of this maxim to broker alliances between nations that were ultimately hostile to each other in the name of overriding interests would be the Second World War. Two alliances of convenience were formed during the six years in which this conflict raged, both involving the USSR as a regional power. First off the bat, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a mutual non-aggression pact known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact after the foreign ministers responsible for signing it. This pact on the part of Nazi Germany guaranteed that the Soviet Union would stay uninvolved in any emerging European war leaving Germany able to focus its energies on subjugation of Poland and other Western European nations. This is a prime example of an alliance of convenience as the Nazi party ultimately clawed hold of power in Germany through stoking the fires of suspicion against Communists working to subvert the Reichstag and democracy yet in a moment of need came to an agreement with a supposedly newly found friend. It is also a prime example this type of alliance as it ultimately collapsed once the supply of mutual enemies between the once antagonistic nations came to an end with Great Britain seemingly at the point of collapse and the USA yet to enter the war. In one of history’s most disastrous back-stabbings, Hitler then suddenly re-remembered that he despised communism and that his rant in book form Mein Kampf called for the annexation of much Soviet territory to satisfy the Nazi hunger for land.

Molotov signs the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact. Behind him are Ribbentrop and Stalin.

Molotov signs the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact. Behind him are Ribbentrop and Stalin.

Another reason that the Second World War is a prime example of this proverb in action is that in the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, another alliance of convenience was formed this time between Great Britain (and later the USA) and the Soviet Union who if anything despised each other more than the Nazis and the Soviets had done. After all, the political movement which Stalin was a figurehead of at the time had in the minds of the British at least deserted them in their hour of need during the First World War and also the central ideology of the Soviet Union was deeply antagonistic to the ways of life of the British Empire and the United States. The feelings of dislike were very much mutual with Stalin reportedly saying that Churchill was “the worst of the capitalists” but ultimately the common interest of beating back Nazism prevailed momentarily at least. Of course, the ultimate legacy of this alliance was that while it did put an end to the threat of Nazism it evolved into a cold-war between the two diametrically opposed ideologies with almost fifty years of tension that could have at any moment ended the human race ensuing. Besides the irony of an alliance between enemies breaking down into a conflict which greatly outlasted the original war it sought to end, history will look back on this and likely say the strangest thing of all was the Britain and the USA in an effort to stop one tyrant bedded another far worse one in Stalin who is often blamed for upwards of 50 million deaths throughout his reign.

Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the Tehran conference - Papa Joe, king of the political wheeler-dealers and (probably) world mass murderers.

Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the Tehran conference – Papa Joe, king of the political wheeler-dealers and (probably) world mass murderers.

As has already been alluded to in the above section on the series of alliances of convenience that were struck in World War 2 the Nazi party, inflammatory rhetoric put to one side, wasn’t afraid to make alliances with nations that it despised in order to get ahead of more direct threats. Another example of the Nazi’s propensity for such types of alliances is the friendship that developed between Nazi agents and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and one of the most divisive Palestinians to ever enter the political stage. Again, this relationship on the surface makes little sense as according to the racial hierarchy that much of the Nazi empire was classified by, the Palestinian Arabs who al-Husseini represented, were not many steps higher than the Jews and consequently would likely have experienced the same treatment had the Nazis every really made headways in the Middle East. The decision  by al-Husseini to ally with the most vocally anti-Semitic power in the world was seemingly based around a mutual dislike for the British who ruled much of the Middle East at the time through League of Nation Mandates and also around the concern of Jewish immigration into Palestine as European Jews escaped the persecutions of the Nazis. And we can assume that all the Nazis saw in an alliance with the Arabs was simply a convenient ally who could support in the fight against the more militarily powerful British. Whatever the reasons for the alliance, time passed and eventually it broke down and back fired on the Palestinians. By allying himself with Hitler, al-Husseini arguably seriously discredited the Palestinian cause for a long time by making his antipathy to the foundation of a Jewish state appear to be related to anti-Semitism rather than simply being a result of his support of Arab nationalism. In appearing to be close to Hitler, whatever the ultimate reality of their relationship, al-Husseini gave the most ardent Zionists a conveniently unapologetic figurehead of supposed Arab anti-Semitism who to this day is used to justify the position of strength Israel feels the need to maintain.

Not the type of image you want surfacing later in life when fronting advocacy campaigns of any sort.

Not the type of image you want surfacing later in life when fronting advocacy campaigns of any sort.

The next case of a country following the mantra “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is perhaps one of the most famous instances of this idea in practice, the USA’s collusion and financial backing of Pakistani and Arab forces in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s invasion of 1979. Much has been done throughout the Cold War, the USA backed paramilitary forces that often were unlikely to reclaim power from the communist forces in whichever country but militarily were adept enough to be a serious thorn in the side of the supposed “international communist conspiracy”. The financial and logistical support which the foreign Mujahideen received enabled them to hold off the military juggernaut of the Soviet Union for over 9 years until Gorbachev decided that Soviet forces would withdraw in 1989 and arguably this defeat was critical in ensuring the eventual downfall of the one time superpower. If the record ended there then this alliance might have be the most successful alliance of convenience in the history of man but unfortunately for all parties involved the story does not end there. Slowly but surely after the Soviet armed forces withdrew, the Mujahideen warlords who, during the 9 years for which the conflict had raged, had amassed massive political and military power in Afghanistan dragged the country into a vicious civil war which ended tens of thousands of lives and destroyed more of the country than the Soviet Union ever managed. This period of Chaos did eventually end when the Taliban, a politico-religious force which sought to the end the period of instability  managed to gain control of the country. This in itself might have been enough proof that alliances of convenience are often very dangerous agreements but again history added some more spice to the dish when the Taliban allowed Al-Qaeda, architects of global terrorism, to take refuge in their Islamic fundamentalist state.

The direct result of Cold War politics

The direct result of Cold War politics.

Now that I have considered some historical examples of the use of the proverb “the enemy of my enemy …” I will now discuss the Arab Spring and show how true to form, alliances that were formed with groups purely on the basis of a common shared enemy seem to be doomed to failure. Either these alliances have already broken down in a remarkably short time scale, in the cases of Libya and Syria or seem consistently on the verge of breaking down as is the case in Egypt and to a questionable degree also Tunisia. For a movement that sprung from boundless optimism with the lofty intentions of killing off the corrupt old guard regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa we have come a long way to the point at which we are at now with the only thing that seems to have changed being the dictator who happens to sit on the throne. I’ll now briefly look at each case in hand:

  • Tunisia – The first country to overthrow its leader and the birthplace of the Arab Spring. When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire little did he know where his actions would end. The Arab Spring in Tunisia resulted in a massive democratisation of Tunisia with Ben Ali, head of state for 24 years overthrown, the dissolution of the political police and elections to a constituent assembly later that year. The newly democratised country of Tunisia is perhaps the most safe of all the countries who managed to overthrow their governments being as relatively speaking it was the most peaceful upheaval and did not rely on paramilitary groups or major violence to end the regime unlike the other three countries in question. However this is not to say that that the Tunisian “Jasmine revolution” isn’t endangered by foolish alliances of convenience like in neighbouring Libya. The calls to revolt which sounded in later 2010 appealed to a broad social consensus ranging from liberal human rights based groups through to hard-line Salafist groups and ultimately the success of the revolution was based on the involvement of every group that participated. In the time that has passed since Ben Ali was overthrown concern has been voiced that hard-line religious elements have begun to co-opt the democratic process for their own ends. In the case of Tunisia then the alliance that was formed between a variety of groups has yet to result in any major backlash as the result of hastily formed alliances and so there is still hope that Tunisia will buck the trend of one time allies either usurping the democratic process or forces supported by the west turning out to be a bigger threat than the government overthrown.
  • Egypt – The second country to successfully overthrow its government during the Arab Spring and a significantly more important regional player. Much the same as in the case of Tunisia the overthrow was ultimately achieved through the power of the Egyptian people themselves and not through the force of Western arms. Similar to the case of Tunisia, the threat to the Egyptian revolution is not one posed by alliances with external powers but created instead by alliances between liberally minded groups and radical elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood who were a critical component of the Egyptian revolution. Since the Election of Mohamed Morsi to the presidency and with the Islamist Bloc forming the second largest group in the Egyptian house of representatives, many Egyptians feel disillusioned and believe that their alliance with such elements was not worth it as increasingly Morsi rolls back the democratisation that took place in the absence of Mubarak and brings Egypt more in line with the Gulf Arab states.
  • Libya – The third country to overthrow its government and head of state, but the first to utilise Western military aid and financial support in doing so. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt where protests were widespread and the majority of society seemed to support the overthrowing of the regime in Libya the protests were very much localised and relied on specific groups within society to achieve its aims. When Qadaffi’s armed forced seemed on the verge of crushing this regional rebellion. NATO intervened and through the use of air support helped the rebels slowly capture more and more of Libya until it fell to them. The alliance in question here is more at risk and this probably due to the fact that instead of being an alliance between different elements of society as a whole who had all suffered equally, it was an alliance between internal rebels and external powers with the only shared interest being the overthrow of a somewhat unpopular leader. From the beginning of the the Libyan revolution right through to today we have been aware of highly dangerous elements active in Libya and the end result is that while Qadaffi is no longer in power Libya does not seem much safer than when Rebels and the Libyan army were fighting throughout the country. The alliance struck between the West and forces in Libya is a perfect example of an alliance based on the proverb and like many such alliances has already broken down with Westerners and other traditional victims of fundamentalist Islamic groups being murdered and chased out of the country and this is still the early days with the new government seemingly unable to control the militias that fought in the uprising.
  • Syria – This last country is a slight aberration when compared to the rest I have discussed as unlike the others the revolutionary movement has not overthrown its government and is seemingly unlikely to do so. However as in Libya, Western politicians who have never been fond of the al-Assad family and its close ties to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have decided to aid the rebel movement, helping them in this are the Gulf Arab states who are wary of a Shia dominated Arab nation with close ties to Iran. As a result of these regional rivalries what started as a genuine revolution for reform and perhaps even the overthrow of the government has increasingly mutated into a sectarian civil war with militias financed by external powers aiming to establish again a nation far closer in style to Saudi Arabia than the enlightened democracies of Scandinavia for example. While support for the rebels in Syria has repeatedly been vocalised and Bashar al-Assad demonised, the actual military support that we saw given to Libyan rebels is yet to materialise and we can hope that this remains the case or in all probability what will happen is that we will see one dictatorial regime overthrown and a far greater threat replace it in the form of allies we have armed whose stated aim is the establishing of a worldwide fundamentalist Salafist state. Whether the support will dry up by itself as a result of the Al-Nusra fronts declaration of support for Al – Qaeda remains to be unseen but I would not hold out too much hope as I’m sure the people in charge knew the elements that were present in Libya before Qaddafi fell.

Of course one difference in this region is that the identity of who is friend and foe is generally speaking continually and rapidly changing and the Arab Spring only seems to have exacerbated this tendency. Perhaps in years to come, unlike the instances of such alliances I offered earlier in this post which have been critically assessed, politicians will escape the blame for  some of the foolish decisions that have already been made and in all likelihood will continue to be made by using this as an excuse and failing to learn the lessons of making alliances based purely on mutual enemies. It is not too much to hope that international politics moves away from rash alliances of convenience and towards building relationships based on much broader and more substantial criteria. An ideology based on hatred – of anything, what so ever, is a curse on all our houses.

Ten years on

By the time I post this ten years will have passed since the governments of both the USA and my government here in the UK together conspired to drag the middle-eastern nation of Iraq kicking and screaming into the loving embrace of  western”democracy”. Studying the historical record I believe that it will back up my assertion that on almost all counts the armies of the west utterly failed in their quest to bring Iraq towards their vision of a safer Middle East. In this post I will discuss the reasons that war was waged against the nation of Iraq, moving on to looking at the ways in which the invasion spectacularly backfired and then concluding by observing the situation in both Iraq and the wider Middle East as it currently stands.

Before I begin examining in any great depth the specific reasons for war that were offered by the Bush and Blair administrations I would like to contextualise the wider political situation the USA found itself in when the prophets of war started banging their drums in 2002-2003. On September the 11th 2001 a group of terrorists, primarily from the Gulf Arab states lead by Egyptian Mohamed Atta crashed passenger aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre buildings, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania with intended target being the US Capitol in Washington DC (the nationalities of the high-jackers is important for points made later in the conclusion of this post). In doing so the 19 terrorists were directly responsible for the deaths of 2996 people and for the injury of over 6000 individuals.

The attack was the greatest lost of civilian life in American history and to do this day holds the record for the greatest number of people ever killed in a single terrorist attack. The hijackers involved were financed by  and affiliated with a terrorist group Al-Qaeda which, unlike most other groups which subscribe to similarly extremist interpretations of Islam who focus on fighting the “near enemies” such as Israel, India and Russia, focussed its attacks on the far enemy in the form of the United States. Prior to the attacks on that day the nominal figure head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden had made public his list of grievances with the USA, chief among them was the posting of American soldiers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Iraq and also continuing American support for Israel (these grievances also are important to remember when reading the conclusion of this post). Alongside publishing fatwa’s against the wonderfully titled Crusader and Jewish alliance throughout the 1990s Al-Qaeda also engaged in several terrorist bombing attacks against US interests and property in the wider world. Despite this rather public campaign of violence and hate speech against the afore mentioned alliance, on the whole both the FBI and CIA as the main protectors of the American people failed to identify the coming storm even though voices within each organisation warned of a coming attack for many months leading towards that fateful day.

In the political climate that followed the attacks against America a great deal of soul searching took place within branches of the American government and it is my contention that it is in this context that in response to the worst terrorist attacks ever to take place that some of the USA’s worst ever foreign policy decisions were made leading ultimately the events of the 20th of March 2003. In the weeks after September 11th the whole world was recast in light of the events as being either supportive of America or antagonistic to it and ultimately it is this dichotomy that lead to the invasion of Iraq being as there was no middle ground for Middle Eastern dictators any more.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

In the hyper-emotional environment that emerged post 9/11 , The US government perhaps abandoned the cold logic of previous crises and allowed itself to be lead by fears of terrorist collusions with regimes that were antagonistic to Washington rather than being guided by concrete facts. This leading of the blind by the one eyed man was partly the fault of the intelligence communities who started the fatally flawed process of feeding the government data and opinions that supported the dominant political currents of the time rather than clashing with them. It was this process that ultimately lead the US administration to focus its sights on the regime of Saddam Hussein as a major potential supporter of terrorism and the drawing up of a list of reasons that were then widely discussed in both political forums and the media. Below I list the main reasons that were offered for an attack against Saddam:

  • The first and most critical of the reasons offered for military intervention in Iraq was the Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that he would have been able to mobilise at a moments notice and threatened “the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region”  according to the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. The reasoning behind this objection to Iraq is ultimately grounded in reality even if the threat itself turned out to be no more than smoke and mirrors which Hussein himself allegedly admitted was simply a ruse to warn off his regional enemies in the form of Tel Aviv and Tehran. In his 8 year war with Iran and during the regional uprisings of Kurds in the north of Iraq, Saddam’s forces used these weapons to devastating effect and so there was room for genuine concern that he was still in possession of such equipment. However of course in the lead up to the 2003 war not a great deal of discussion was heard on how Saddam had acquired such weapons in the first place, for example by buddying up with former conservative US administrations.
Turns out the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

Turns out that the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

  • The next critical rationale that was used to justify the invasion was that Iraq harboured and actively aided terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. In the dark days after September the 11th during the period of soul searching that many of the arms of the American government inevitably went through, such a climate perhaps lead to the acceptance of frankly schizoid paranoia that all of the USA’s enemies were in league with each other in spite of facts that disproved such notions.  That such fears were expressed suggests a fatal disregard for the hard work of some American intelligence officials who had highlighted the existence and growth of autonomous networks of terrorists throughout the nineties that were not tied to states, and instead perhaps a willingness in a time of crisis, for senior government officials who belonged in a different era, to rely on older models of political thought where it was often the case that enemies of the USA were in some way being supported by the regimes in Moscow or Beijing. Such assurances that Hussein was supportive of international terrorists were made even though Bin Laden had repeatedly denounced him as an infidel and even offered during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to use Al-Qaeda fighters as a foot army to defend Saudi Arabia. As well as this rather specific evidence of the antipathy between both men, there was also Saddam’s long record, similar to that of many Western backed dictators in the region, of cracking down violently against any religious groups that threatened their power and the stability of their respective states.
  • Less critical but also equally used as justification for the 2003 war was Saddam Hussein’s history of repressing human rights within Iraq. Again this, much like the concerns over weapons of mass destruction, was based on historical facts that all sides agreed on. However the use of this rationale to justify war against Iraq is troubling as taken to its logical conclusion it would also justify war against every nation in the Middle East, friend or foe of America and so its selective use speaks more about western double standards rather than the incredibly repressive nature of Saddam’s Baathist regime. Another similarity that this rationale shares with the concerns over weapons of mass destruction is that when reported both by the government and the media, not a great deal was done to really assess the ways in which American support had allowed Saddam to so vigorously repress human rights or created the need for such acts. The prime example in my mind is the uprisings in both the south and the north of Iraq in the weeks following  Desert Storm which were to a large degree motivated by US calls to rise against Saddam that were broadcast over radio frequencies. When the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north heeded the call to rise up against Saddam the uprisings received no material support from the US despite suggestions that this would have been the reward for helping to oust Saddam. Of course though such a narrative in the media or government dialogue would have been far too complicated and would ultimately have served to de-legitimize the calls for war.

Now that I have assessed the intentions for the war as being A) to rid Saddam of his WMDs, B) to prevent support by Iraq for Al-Qaeda and C) to stop violations of human rights in Iraq I will now discuss the end results of the invasion and occupation of Iraq to see firstly if the coalition achieved its main aims and secondly to observe what the wider effects of the war were on the country.

The first rationale, to rid Saddam of his WMDs found itself confronted by one particularly unfortunate problem. Ten years on, not a single weapon of mass destruction has ever been found on Iraqi soil, and further to this, Saddam’s factories for producing this type of equipment were also nowhere to be found, putting the lie to the most feverish imaginings of the CIA, MI6 and other intelligence agencies. With the whole weapons of mass destruction line of reasoning turning out to be based on absolutely no concrete facts, the danger of faulty intelligence is being proved on a daily basis as Iraq sits (relatively) peacefully meanwhile in neighbouring Syria we are watching  the state fall apart knowing that either A) a regime with a fondness for brutal repression or B) a variety of Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups could at any moment get their hands on some actual real life functioning weapons of mass destruction. I’m a cautious soul and in options A and B are two hands that I would not like to see armed with WMDs, ever.

Based on a true story ....

Based on a true story ….

The next stated aim of the invasion that was discussed above was the aim to destroy the terrorist connections between the Iraqi state and Al-Qaeda type groups and prevent the further development of such ties between Iraqi nationals and groups that the United States was at war with. As mentioned above also, the existence of such links was tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. Saddam had a long and some would say proud history of repressing ANY religious movement that he felt threatened him, and ultimately when you idolise and model your behaviour on dictator numero uno Joseph Stalin there’s a tendency to see threats everywhere.

Not the ideal role model for anyone's children.

Not the ideal role model for anyone’s children.

Despite the proven factual record of repression against the Badr organization and the Sadrist movement during his reign, it is likely that the post 9/11 climate of suspicion lead worriers within intelligence agencies to connect these two dots. Anyway, in the event of the invasion of Iraq no concrete links were ever discovered to prove any form of alliance, formal or informal between Saddam and the scions of militant Islam. The closest  that coalition troops ever came to fighting anything that minutely resembled the foot soldiers of Al-Qaeda was in fighting with Saddam’s Fedayeen brigades which were far closer to irregular personal militias than they were to terrorists. However all this being said, the coalition presence in Iraq didn’t take long to fulfil the prophecies of Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists and within weeks amongst the insurgency who fought specifically to free Iraq from occupation were more sinister elements who have gone on to wage a brutal campaign of bombings and intimidation against their sectarian enemies and brought the country to the brink of a civil war. Eventually the already low levels of support that such movements garnered from the Iraqi people dried up as they could see that such indiscriminate methods were harming their own communities as well as those of different faiths, creeds and ethnicities.

A gift I'm sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come

A gift I’m sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come.

The third and most slapdash of reasons that was offered to justify the 2oo3 invasion was to protect the human rights of the Iraqi people from the iron fists of Saddam’s regime.  Despite the cognitive problems caused  by the notion of preventing suffering by creating massive human suffering that this ideal caused this was arguably the most successful of the coalition forces missions as strictly speaking they did through military intervention (questionable legality of such acts aside) free the people of Iraq from the 24 year long reign of Saddam Hussein. On the other hand though the invasion opened up the Iraqi people to a whole variety of new ways in which their rights could be abused by the powers that be and so the question genuinely must be pondered as to whether the rule of Saddam or the coalition authority was worse as both in their respective time spans ruled over an orgy of suffering.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people in Iraq

Take for example the number of people who were displaced by the conflict, are they likely to thank the USA lead coalition for the war effort which destroyed both worldly possessions and family ? Probably not and by the very same token neither are the stillborn or deformed victims of depleted uranium who were not even guilty, having not been born before the war, of the crime of being Iraq in Iraq during the war against Iraq. Much the same as these two groups are unlikely to thank the armed forces for freeing them from bondage under Saddam due to the methods used, also equally unlikely to believe that the western armies were deserving of thanks are the countless victims of sectarian warfare that were killed simply by accident of believing in the wrong interpretation of scripture. Another group that I imagine feel little but contempt was the former soldiers of the Iraqi army who were imprisoned and tortured, again purely for the crime of having served in an army which as a result of the politics of international diplomacy was cast as an enemy of the USA.

An image that the whole Arab world will not and further more should not ever forget.

An image burned into the collective psyche of the whole Arab world as a demonstration of American power which will not and, further more, should not, ever be forgotten.

In assessing the war to see if it achieved these three key aims it is plain to see for anyone who leans towards pessimism that the war was very little short of a complete disaster for the USA as more and more of the justifications that were offered for its waging fell to nothing, discrediting the USA greatly in the process. Alongside these three key failings a host of other developments in Iraq took place as a direct result of the war which I will discuss now to demonstrate how despite, if the record is to be taken literally, the best of intentions the war has had massive lasting impacts on the country which only serve to undo any good work that was intended.

  • The first major upshot of the 2003 invasion is the rebalancing of power within Iraq that on paper would lend the impression that Iraq has become a more democratic society. The main indicator of such a rebalancing of power is the significant increase in the inclusion of Iraq’s majority Shia population in the political process. On the surface this is one of the few positive results of the invasion from the point of view of Iraq’s once repressed majority who suffered tremendously as a result of repression under Saddam and disproportionately as a result of sanctions against Iraq. While the increased inclusion of Iraq’s Shia in the political structure is a sign of progression this is not to say that such an increase in inclusion has not had effects which many people would argue are negative on the wider country. For example, with the increase in the number of Shia in elected government, there was a concomitant increase in the number of Shia civil servants which lead to charges of nepotism being levelled against Shia politicians responsible for hiring them which served to disrupt the transition of power and further polarise Iraqi society. As well as the increase in government positions held by Shia Iraqis, another side effect of their increased involvement in politics was a rise in militia type groups that supported certain politicians which threaten stability in an already unstable country. The prime example of a political movement that gained tremendous ground in post Saddam Iraq would be the Sadrist movement lead by Muqtada al-Sadr which did a great deal towards ending the occupation, but since has had a destabilizing effect on the wider political environment and could continue to do so many years into the future.
As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view Al-Sadr as  a kingmaker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view al-Sadr as the key king maker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

  • Another result of the war that many had not predicted or planned for was that Iraq would develop much closer ties with Iran. The western hopes for Iraq in a post Saddam world were very much of a peaceful country with a strong quasi-dictatorial ruler that would align themselves much more than Saddam had with the Gulf Arab petro-kingdoms, and therefore would stay very much a friend of the USA and within the American sphere of influence regionally. With Saddam gone, Iraq’s relationship with its neighbour Iran has significantly thawed to the point where many argue that Iran now has a dangerous amount of influence over Iraq. For example, many Shia politicians who during Saddam’s reign languished in exile in Iran have  been able since the end of the war to return to Iraq and perhaps as a thank you towards their beneficent neighbour have increased ties with Iran, politically, culturally and economically and generally speaking many view the partner wearing the trousers in this relationship as being Iran.   The Iranian influence over Iraqi politics has by many sources even been argued to affect the higher levels of government with al-Maliki viewed as dangerously under Iran’s spell, with Iran having exerted a great deal of its influence in the country to support al-Maliki’s government and help in the reconstruction process. Many commentators are also worried that in the current political climate that Iraq will aid Iran in subverting sanctions by transporting banned goods across their respective borders, in the process propping up the regime in Tehran which American would dearly like to see collapse as a result of its economic blockade.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

  • Another result of the war that is an unusually positive one that few predicted is the continued growth and success of the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Perhaps it is a side effect of the autonomy that these regions already enjoyed but whatever the reason, the northern regions of Iraq where Kurds are the majority have managed to steer their regions towards economic prosperity and away from the sectarian chaos that has blighted the rest of the country. Like many success stories throughout the Middle East the boom in the Kurdish regions of Iraq is built on oil money so may not be sustainable in the long term but for the time being it offers a welcome alternative to the comparative stagnation that affects the other regions of Iraq.  The continuing success of Iraqi Kurdistan also is dangerously tied to the success of peace deals between Kurds and the Turkish government in neighbouring Turkey which have in the past proved to be shaky and volatile agreements. If peace breaks down between the Mr Erdogan’s government and the Turkish Kurds and the porous border with Iraqi Kurdistan is used as a safe haven then the Iraqi Kurds may suffer at the hands of Turkish armed forces who often violate Iraqi territorial sovereignty in pursuit of their Turkish enemies.

At this juncture the reader can see that the many implications of the 2003 invasion are still visible throughout Iraq today and worst of all, it is not entirely clear whether or not the invasion can be seen as having changed things for the better overall in the country. Iraq today stands on a precipice with the chance to succeed greatly in coming years if its current luck holds, but also equally likely is that one event could tip the balance and Iraq would find itself in a more chaotic state than it ever did before, during or after the war. The wider Middle East is currently in flux and no-one can be sure what the end results of such change will be. In neighbouring Syria, civil war is raging and it is difficult to tell whether Bashar Al-Assad will survive the conflict or if the loose coalition of Syrian rebels and foreign Jihadist groups will succeed in toppling him. Whatever happens in Syria though, it is already having a knock on effect in Iraq with Sunni groups emboldened by the example being set next door. If Syria were to fall then I imagine there is a significant chance of Iraq suffering as a result of a safe haven for Islamic extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda being set up on its door step. Alongside this potential nightmare which holds the most concern for Iraq’s Shia population another concern that would affect the whole country equally is the Israeli and American intentions regarding Iran. I would guess that if the American government was stupid enough to be dragged into conflict once more purely to protect Israel that this too would have a massively destabilizing effect on Iraq with the conflict easily capable of spilling across the border into Iraq.

When we look at the how America has exercised its influence in the Middle East, the overall picture is troubling, not because of the massive violations of international law and customs although these might be equally applicable. The reason that American foreign policy in the Middle East is so troubling is the arbitrary and ever changing ways in which it is enforced. Take for example America’s view on dictators, Dictators in the last ten years have not been acceptable in Iran and Iraq, yet maintaining close and even amicable ties with the dictatorial rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is perfectly palatable. Another prime example of the double standard is the issue of nuclear weapons where the USA has repeatedly threatened Iran in no uncertain terms over its supposed hopes to gain nuclear weapons yet Israel has never once received condemnation over its own nuclear programme. Want another example just to convince you that US foreign policy really is so arbitrary in its enforcement ? Terrorism is another great example, perhaps the best example with the USA actively engaged in extra judicial assassinations of Yemeni nationals guilty of association with Al-Qaeda yet in Syria the current US administration wants to arm rebels who have openly committed war crimes and are affiliated with Al-Qaeda. My observation of the problem is thus – while the US continues to so arbitrarily enforce its foreign policy against bit part players in the region such as Saddam’s Iraq, Bashar’s Syria and Saleh’s Yemen and ignore the real grievances of the Arab people who suffer so much as a result of much US foreign policy then there will always be terrorist groups willing to wage war against the USA. While America invaded Iraq to protect the human rights of its people it failed to end its uncritical support of Israel which breeds resentment as the rights of Palestinians are daily violated. While members of the US administration advocate for intervention in Syria to prevent WMDs falling into the “wrong” hands they chose to ignore the very real problems of what some might argue is endemic support for movements such as Al-Qaeda in the Gulf Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and UAE as we can see in the nationality of the 9/11 bombers. Ultimately then my argument is this, that Iraq has taught us a lesson that military intervention is a useless means to change things for the better and that if the USA and its allies are serious about making the world a safer place then they would do far better to solve issues such as chronic unemployment and restlessness for youths in the Gulf Arab countries which drives so much support and money towards terrorist groups. Such issues can be solved peacefully and the reward reaped in terms of saved lives would be significant enough to justify such policies as opposed to firing many millions worth of dollars in missiles at problems hoping the end result will be different to last time.