In a short video produced by Vice News and the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner states that the US unintentionally created the Islamic State (IS). He argues that a series of bad political and military-strategical choices – for example the decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place, the dissolution of the Iraqi security forces and the de-Ba’athisation during the US occupation, the humiliation of the Sunnis etc. – planted the seed for the creation of the IS. In fact, since the beginning of the US occupation there were different active offshoots of al-Qaeda in Iraq. IS’s brutality is fueled through Sunni insurgence, their hate against the former US occupiers and against the dominant, rivalling Shias.
Yes, the US invasion in Iraq was a stupid move by former US president George W. Bush. Plenty of decisions of the US during the campaign and the occupation in Iraq were terrible wrong. Even worse, the torture and prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib represent a moral bankruptcy of the US. Nevertheless, Danner tells us only one aspect of the story. After the US occupation, the creation of IS wasn’t unavoidable and probably the Shia government under Nouri al-Maliki had even a greater impact on the creation of the Islamic State (see also the articles by Hauke Feickert). The Sunni “Sons of Iraq” were never integrated into the Iraqi Armed Forces, despite according promises and the Sunni dominated Anbar province remained underdeveloped. The powerful positions of Shiite politicians in the Iraqi government, Iraq’s political system is even a greater frustration for the Sunni – once more again, election alone makes no democracy.
Another important point, which Danner doesn’t take into consideration is the effect of the civil war in Syria in the rising of IS. In Syria again, the Sunnis were one of the main targets of the operations conducted by Assad’s forces. According to a yesterday released publication of the Center for Security Studies at the ETH Zurich, the civil war in Syria gave IS a strategic depth in Iraq. Last but not least the poor morale of the Iraqi Armed Forces facilitated the strategic gains of IS in Northern Iraq.
Danner’s remarks are interesting, but the problem with such retrospective assessment is that afterwards all seems so clear. There is a suggestion of a direct causality from one to another decision, but that is the result of a personal interpretation. The final outcome today is only one possibility of many. When the US troops pulled out of Iraq, everybody knew the huge challenges the government in Iraq has to master — but at this time nobody could forecast the rise of the IS as a reasonable threat for the whole region.
Some people say that history repeats itself. Should that be true, then ask yourself what kind of seed US and NATO troops planted in Afghanistan. Will the Afghan government master the challenges ahead or will we see there another rise of a powerful terror organization in a few years?
Please write your opinion in the comment section below or on our Facebook page “Sicherheitspolitik“. Who is responsible for the creation of the IS? Who should now clean up the mess? Will history repeats itself in Afghanistan? Will we see another save heaven for terrorists in Afghanistan in a few years? How can we deal with this future threat?
Mark Danner, “Iraq: The New War“, The New York Review of Books, September 25, 2003.