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Since American and British forces invaded Iraq in 2003, there has been an unending wave of insurgency in the oil-rich nation. This invasion led to a wave of insurgency that has taken different forms, including inter-clan attacks, religious attacks, terrorism attacks, and political attacks. Coalition forces (British and US forces) in Iraq have, therefore, been fighting a multifaceted and complex war that initially started as a nationalistic response against foreign invasion (Dobbins, 2005). According to a British non-governmental organization (NGO), the Iraq insurgency has led to about 162,000 deaths (SMH, 2012). Most of the casualties (about 80%) of the deaths have been civilian deaths. Thousands of soldiers (from the Iraqi army and coalition forces) have also died in the endless string of insurgency that has lasted close to a decade now.
Besides the unfortunate death toll, the presence of coalition forces in Iraq has brought a high financial cost to the participating countries. For example, the US alone has spent more than $1 trillion in war expenditure (White, 2012). Britain has also spent billions of dollars in the war. Albeit the coalition force wanted to install a stable government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Britain and America have suffered a significant backlash and domestic criticism for their prolonged occupation of Iraq (Hughes, 2010). While the Obama administration has refocused its efforts on the Afghanistan war, the continued instability of the Iraqi government and its failure to control most parts of the country remains a critical issue for the future of Iraq. Indeed, it is crucial to assess the ability of the reigning regime to prevent the complete collapse of state authority because such an outcome may be disastrous for the future of Iraq and the global community at large.
With a shift in American foreign policy, the continuation of insurgency attacks, and the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq, the future of Iraq remains uncertain. This paper explores the nature of the Iraqi insurgency with the aim of providing an accurate outlook of insurgency in Iraq. Three sections (past, present, future) outline the framework of this paper. The first section describes the historical context of the insurgency, the origins of the attacks, and the possible causes for its spread. The second section outlines the current state of the insurgency in Iraq, the prevailing situation in the oil-rich nation, and its impact on Iraqi national stability. The last section portrays an accurate outlook of insurgency in Iraq and the implications of this outlook on US national interests. The importance of understanding the nature of the Iraqi insurgency is pivotal to the future development of foreign policies in western countries and the execution of future military strategies. Policy-makers and academicians are also likely to benefit from the findings of this paper.
Hughes (2010) says the collapse of the Sunni-dominated Saddam regime (in 2003) created the right conditions for the wave of looting and public disorder that characterized subsequent years of US dominance in Iraq. Most Iraqis received the fall of Saddam Hussein positively, but the collapse of his regime created the right conditions for small groups of insurgents to reorganize and create a state of anarchy in Iraq. Mainly, small insurgent groups that were opposed to American and British intervention in Iraq exploited the fall of Saddam’s regime to undermine law and order in Iraq. Hughes (2010) believes Washington’s ignorance of the fate of a post-Saddam Iraq also contributed to the rise of insurgency attacks in Iraq. In fact, soon after the fall of Saddam’s regime, the US reduced its military presence in the Middle East country to a bare minimum, thereby providing the right environment for the reorganization of insurgent activities (Dobbins, 2005).
Although British and American forces received reinforcements for friendly armies, the reduced presence of military personnel in Iraq made it difficult for American and British forces to establish law and order after the fall of Saddam’s regime. The breakdown of the order was especially profound in the areas controlled by British forces. For example, there was a serious security crisis in Basra (an area controlled by British forces) from 2005 until the day. All British forces withdrew from the region in 2007 (Ucko, 2010).
The failure of British and American forces to prevent the proliferation of insurgent attacks in a post-Saddam Iraq dented its image in the eyes of the Iraqi people (Ucko, 2010). This situation worsened through the emergence of attacks on former Saddam loyalists by embittered Iraqi civilians. The attacks forced ex-Ba’athists (mostly comprised of Saddam loyalists) to retaliate by taking up arms and fighting those that fought them (Hughes, 2010). At the same time, the disbandment of the Iraqi military provided a catalytic effect on the emergence of insurgency activities in Iraq, as many soldiers lost their livelihoods after the fall of the Saddam regime. Suffering from embarrassment and the loss of their livelihoods, these ex-soldiers provided the initial technical expertise for insurgents to fight American and British forces (Hughes, 2010). The attempt by coalition forces to train new Iraqi soldiers and police officers also created a security vacuum that led to the emergence of insurgency activities.
As the security crisis deepened, there was a growing school of thought among most Iraqis that the west was mainly concerned with exploiting Iraqi oil at the expense of protecting its peace (Ucko, 2010). The Sunni-Arab group felt especially angered by the idea that the west was after exploiting Iraqis oil (Hughes, 2010). This school of thought mobilized more rebel groups to oppose Britain and America’s presence in America. The status of the insurgence thereafter shifted from being a Sunni-led insurgency (former Saddam loyalists) to an encompassing war, which included even people who were opposed to the Saddam regime in the first place (Hughes, 2010).
The past conduct of Saddam’s regime in running his government also contributed to the emergence of insurgent groups, as some Iraqi insurgent groups used the security vacuum to settle national scores (perpetrated by Saddam’s injustices). These national scores set the Sunni-Arab group against Kurds, who differed with the Sunni because of their ambition to be separate from the Sunni (Dobbins, 2005). The Sunni also fought the Shi’a community who felt aggrieved by Saddam’s marginalization. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein provided an opportunity for Shia Muslims to take over leadership, many Sunnis felt uncomfortable with the thought of a Shi’a-led government (Hughes, 2010). Such concerns forced them to support insurgency attacks to stabilize the newly created government. Relative to this assertion, Hughes (2010) says, “While the Anglo-American intervention provided a catalyst for Iraq’s insurgent groups, the latter is very much a product of the social, ethnic, sectarian and tribal animosities deliberately fostered by the old regime” (p. 170). Comprehensively, the insurgency in Iraq has been a product of several factors that have made it very difficult to stabilize the country. Internal tensions among Iraqi communities, the withdrawal of foreign soldiers, and the lack of a stable security force have contributed to the creation of an almost complete state of lawlessness in Iraq.
Since the emergence of insurgent activities, it has been very difficult for coalition forces to stabilize Iraq, or rebuild it altogether. Specifically, it has been very difficult for America and Britain to install a stable and democratically elected government in Iraq. Although there has been a recent decline in the number of insurgent attacks (compared to the full-blown civil war in 2006), the mostly Sunni-dominated insurgent groups still have a lot of potentials and intention to cause serious harm to innocent Iraqis and their “struggling” government. Since the Iraqi invasion has had a significant human death toll on American and British forces (about 4000 American soldiers and 179 British troops have died), the will of the coalition forces to stay in Iraq has subsided too (White, 2012). Relative to this high human death toll, Hughes (2010) says “In this respect, the insurgents have also undermined the will of the US, British and other Coalition governments to continue their occupation of Iraq, and discredited both the Bush administration and the Labor government” (p. 170).
The consequences of the war have also discredited the legitimacy of British and American intervention in Iraq, more so because Iraq became a more unstable country after the intervention of British and American forces. In Britain, the Labor government received widespread backlash from many observers who criticized the government for involving Britain in a “meaningless” war. In America, the war largely contributed to the ascension of President Obama to the office because he promised to withdraw American troops from Iraq. Hughes (2010) believes that even though the US can be proud of making some progress in containing a complex, dynamic, and multifaceted insurgency, the US-led invasion in Iraq goes down in history as part of America’s modern-day foreign policy blunders. This sentiment may continue to gain credence as the wave of insurgency continues to stifle Iraqi’s reconstruction and undermine its national security.
The continued spate of insurgent activities in Iraq and the growing divisions among Iraqi clans and religious factions prove that the insurgents have failed to create a national movement that would receive support from Iraqis who resented American and British intervention in the oil-rich country. The serious divisions among the different insurgent groups also show that the idea of an end to the insurgency activities in Iraq may be far-fetched. Attempts to rally all Iraqis against the west (such as Fallujah and Al-Sadr 2004 uprisings) have also flopped because of inter-clan and inter-religious wars between Shi’a and Sunni insurgent groups. The continuation of this division is likely to continue undermining Iraqi unity (Hoffman, 2006).
Insurgent activities have also been counterproductive to the quest for insurgents to support terrorism and rally the Iraqi people against the west because they have worsened inter-communal relations and created a sense of alarm among Muslims regarding the rising number of Iraqi deaths in the fights (Hoffman, 2006). For example, many Sunni Arabs have started to question the activities of insurgent groups because they are opposed to the high number of Iraqi deaths in their insurgent attacks (Hughes, 2010). The rise of insurgent attacks in Iraq has also undermined Al-Qaeda’s goals to promote their global terrorist movements because many of the casualties in the insurgent attacks have been Iraqis (Hoffman, 2006). In fact, White (2012) says that the insurgent attacks in Iraq have led to the death of more than 10,000 Iraqis.
The high death toll of Iraqi civilians has caused a lot of backlash from many Islamic countries regarding the ongoing terrorism activities in Iraq and the wider Islamic region (Hughes, 2010). This shift in ideology has also led to the decline of insurgent activities in some regions. For example, within Iraq, there has been a reduction of insurgent attacks in former insurgent strongholds such as Ramadi and Fallujah. Hughes (2010) says that the reduction of insurgent attacks in such regions manifests as a product of Al-Anbar’s “awakening.”
In my view, the future of the insurgency in Iraq greatly depends on the reconciliation of Shia and Sunni groups. However, their history shows that the reconciliation of these two Muslim groups may be far-fetched, especially considering the fact that both groups hold deep suspicions and mistrust for one another. Therefore, many factors could lead to the worsening of Sunni-Shi’a relations because the foundation of their relationship is still very fragile. For example, Hughes (2010) says Sunni Muslims are concerned about the lack of funds for reconstruction in Sunni-dominated regions because Shi’a-dominated regions seem to benefit from the allocation of reconstruction funds from the present government.
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American and British forces may, therefore, be involved in an indefinite war on insurgency, where they will likely confront irregular insurgent fighters. The fighters may be traditional fighters or politically motivated fighters because they will be fighting a larger religious war to promote radical Islamic ideals in Iraq (Hoffman, 2006). The continuation of insurgency activities in Iraq may prove to be disastrous for Iraq if their activities are not contained soon. Hughes (2010) supports this claim by saying, “In weak states afflicted with ethnic, social and tribal tensions, such insurgencies are more likely to lead to state disintegration as opposed to state takeover should they succeed” (p. 172). The duty of coalition forces to stop insurgent attacks, therefore, poses a very difficult, complex, and dynamic conceptual challenge that may bedevil the activities of coalition forces in Iraq. This uncertainty causes a lot of worry to US national interests, especially since the insurgencies are ongoing.
Albeit there has been a reduction in insurgent activities in Iraq, the oil-rich nation is still a long way from realizing peace and stability. The decentralized and fragmented nature of insurgent activity in Iraq is likely to influence the future of global insurgent activities, and more specifically, the way foreign nations manage such crises. The wave of insurgency in Iraq may continue for a long time because the internal strife within the country and the inter-clan and inter-religious wars greatly undermine Iraq’s national stability. Western nations (mainly the US and Britain) may, therefore, find themselves involved in a protracted war to stop the insurgency activities. However, the Iraqi experience bears significant lessons for western nations as they move to formulate complex interventions for stabilizing weak and unstable states such as Iraq. Even though Britain and America have pulled their troops out of Iraq, their involvement in Iraq will not end because they have concerns that their failure to stabilize the country may lead to the creation of “safe havens” for terrorists (Hughes, 2010). Their failures in Iraq may, therefore, dent a big blow to the war on international terrorism. This outcome may further dissipate into the creation of new “safe havens” in Iraq for drug lords and other criminals. Comprehensively, based on the unpredictable future of insurgent activities in Iraq, the continuation of Iraqi insurgency seriously threatens US national interests.
Dobbins, J. (2005). Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War. Foreign Affairs, 84(1), 16-25.
Hoffman, B. (2006). Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(2), 103-121.
Hughes, G. (2010). The Insurgencies in Iraq, 2003–2009: Origins, Developments, and Prospects. Defence Studies, 10(1), 152–176.
SMH. (2012). Iraq war death toll put at 162,000. Web.
Ucko, D. (2010). Lessons from Basra: The Future of British Counter-insurgency. Survival, 52(4), 131-158.
White, D. (2012). Iraq War Facts, Results & Statistics. Web.