By Heidi Welte:
Two years ago, ISIS conquered the city of Mosul in Iraq. On 17 October this year, an offensive by American and Iraqi forces began to retake the city. The offensive has been slow because Mosul and the surrounding area has long been a haven for ISIS and the terrorist organization’s predecessor, Al-Qaida. Conditions within Mosul have steadily worsened for the civilian populace as so often happens in siege-like conditions such as those seen in this offensive. Iraqi special forces have entered the city and expect long, drawn out, intense fighting before the city is secured. Many of the civilians, in the parts of the city that have been liberated thus far, are happy to have their freedom back, but intermingled with these are supporters of ISIS. It will be a long process in order to carefully weed out ISIS fighters and supporters. Even after the city and surrounding areas have been liberated, however, the political future still remains to be seen and it will be up to the governmental appointees to ensure the people of Mosul remain free.
Iraq’s instability is not new. Like many other areas with political instability, the source of the volatility goes back to World War I and its aftermath. World War I saw the end to the Habsburg Empire in Austria-Hungary, and it also saw the end to the Ottoman Empire which had long been in decline. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century. Iraq fell under British rule when the Sultanate was abolished in Turkey in 1923 and the Caliphate was abolished in 1924. Borders and a monarchy were imposed by the British with little regard for local Iraqi politics, as they had often done in tower countries over which they ruled. And just as those other countries, uprisings were common once Iraq achieved independence when the British Mandate, which was imposed upon them after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, ended in 1932. During World War II, several uprisings occurred, all of which were crushed until the Britain-imposed Hashimite Monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was declared. This wouldn’t bring lasting peace. In 1963, the Ba’ath party took power, paving the way for Saddam Hussein to take control of Iraq in 1979. More wars followed, such as the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s and the Gulf War in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, which has been independent since 1961, but at one point was a part of Iraq and the Ottoman Empire. More recently, the US invaded Iraq in 2003 among fears that Saddam Hussein was providing weapons of mass destruction to Al-Qaida. US and British forces then occupied Iraq from 2003-2011. There are still American troops fighting in Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in driving out ISIS.
Iraq’s transition from being part of a 400 year empire to an independent nation has not been smooth and without problems, nor should we expect it to be. Oftentimes, many nations that are now independent but were colonies at one point have difficulties governing themselves after acquiring their independence. Even the US had such difficulties. After a long war for independence ended with America gaining her freedom, there was a lot of uncertainty. The articles of confederation, which worked well enough in wartime, made governing so difficult that they were scrapped entirely in favor of a new constitution, which is now the law of the land. Rhode Island was the last state to adopt it and only did after threat of war. The US also had the advantage of largely governing ourselves with little interference from the British Monarchy, something not all former colonies enjoyed. Haiti, a former French colony, suffered under chronic instability. India, too, had much difficulty adjusting to home rule after winning her independence from the British.
It is therefore unfair to expect Iraq to transition from part of an empire to British colony to an independent nation with a democratic government quickly and easily without any violence, uprisings, or disagreements. First, ISIS needs to be decapitated and the insurgency quelled. That will only happen through appropriate use of military force. Military force, however, cannot bring about a lasting peace. A military can make peace, but civilian politicians must keep it. Lasting peace in the region must be brought about by the civilian leadership uniting the people rather than dividing them, choosing to focus on common ground rather than on differences, willing to compromise and resolve them as peacefully and diplomatically as possible.
Heidi Welte is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Navy Veteran.