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When the World Trade Centers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, the world saw unprecedented images of terror, devastation, and horror. Following the attacks, the United States’ conflicting views with the nation of Iraq, ruled by dictator Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist Party, came to a boiling point. Since Saddam Hussein refused to allow the United Nations to inspect the suspicions of chemical weapons labs in Iraq, the U.S. and a group of countries including the U.S., Great Britain, and Poland (called the Coalition), decided that the best course of action, in order to preserve international safety, was to invade and stop him. The war in Iraq lasted eight long years, and was militarily regarded as a success by the Coalition. Coalition troops suffered only 4,185 casualties, while the Iraqi insurgency lost around 36,000 insurgents killed with many more even wounded. However, after the Coalition exited Iraq in 2011, cracks began to form in the system that the Coalition left behind. While it would seem that the Coalition won the war militarily, from an administrative and tactical sense, the war was far from successful (Encyclopedia Britannica). The Coalition invasion of Iraq following the September 11 attacks failed, not because of the service of the soldiers who gallantly fought, but because of the Coalition’s failure to establish a new government that balanced the power between Sunni and Shia Muslims, their allowance of human rights violations during the campaign, and the Coalition had no exit strategy and lacked preventative measures against the rise of terror groups, such as ISIS.
One of the primary reasons that the Iraq War was a failure, in an administrative and logistical sense, was in the Coalition’s inability to establish a balanced government between the major religious demographics of Sunni and Shia Islam. Since the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632, there has been intense conflict between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. At the time of Mohammed’s death, there was a succession crisis, in addition to the rapid growth of the religion in the area. “Some believed that a new leader should be chosen by consensus; others thought that only the prophet’s descendants should become caliph. The title passed to a trusted aide, Abu Bakr, though some thought it should have gone to Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali eventually did become caliph after Abu Bakr’s two successors were assassinated” (Harney). When Ali’s son tried to assume the title after his father’s assassination, he was martyred by forces belonging to the current caliph or leader who usurped the throne from his father. The people who believed Ali and his descendents to be the true leaders of the Muslim people called themselves Shiites, or followers of Ali. The Sunni, who are the majority of the Islamic world, follow the line of established caliphs from the death of Mohammed and have a strong dislike for the Shiites (Harney). The religious demographics of Iraq are as follows: 65% Shia Islam, 30% Sunni Islam, with the remaining 5% made up of religious minorities (Mohamed). The U.S. government, however, did not truly understand the long held animosity between the two factions and established a wholly Shiite government. With the government of Iraq still under technical Shiite law, many of the Sunni people have joined insurgencies against the government. Several Coalition soldiers told stories of the Shiite soldiers of the government massacring Sunni civilians in gruesome ways. Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Dwight Chrvala, a combat veteran of the Iraq war, relates that he had to break up an event in the Iraqi camp in which the Shiite soldiers of the Iraqi government were brutally attacking Sunni civilians. He said, “They were cutting off the hands of all of the military-age males in the village that they rounded up. They took bars of rebar and were beating them to death. We were told not to intervene in many of these cultural conflicts between the Iraqis. These kinds of things happened on a much more frequent basis than one would expect”(Chrvala). Incidents like these fueled resentment and growing hatred for the Shiite government, especially with many powerful Sunni majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, willing to help fund a Sunni insurgency and destroy the Shiite government. If the Coalition had considered trying to keep equal representation, the large Sunni minority would have not rebelled and caused all of the major problems that are occurring in the country today. But unfortunately, the governmental structures installed by the U.S.-led Coalition are indeed currently failing and the Northern portion of the country is trying to secede. There are strong insurgencies in the south that the government cannot beat. By installing a Shiite-only government and discounting entirely the significant minority, the war became a wasted effort for democracy in Iraq.
Another major issue that caused the of the failure of the Iraq War was the inability to prevent human rights abuses by the Coalition forces and Shiite Iraqi forces. These abuses were severely dangerous to the stability of the region, because they had the effect of creating more insurgents. LTC Chrvala explained, “When someone you know is beaten, maimed or killed, it makes you significantly more likely to want to take up arms and kill those responsible” (Chrvala). The human rights violations that took place during the Iraq War, mainly perpetrated by those who were there to help the Iraqis, were definitely more than enough to cause such an insurgency. The Abu Ghraib (a prison for insurgent detainees in Iraq) scandal, created a violent, burning animosity for the Coalition troops on Iraqi soil. Iraqi detainees were beaten, horrifically mutilated, forced to eat their own excrement, and dragged around naked. Several inmates died, and as a result court martial charges were brought upon the administrators of the prison. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done and when the abuses were seen by the world, many jumped to join insurgencies to fight the people who would commit such horrible atrocities against defenseless prisoners. (Hersh). Another awful example of human rights abuse that carried a significant impact was the Haditha massacre. In 2005, a squad of U.S. Marines killed twenty-four unarmed civilians. They told authorities that they were under intense combat stress before the massacre began and they thought the victims were armed. There was an intense outcry from the locals because the civilians killed were well known in the area, and when the world saw the horrific images of innocent families gunned down, global anger rose. After no real charges were pressed on the Marines, the anger rose even more, insurgency membership increased significantly (CNN). Coupled with incidents like the one recalled by LTC Chrvala, (and the frequency with which incidents like that occurred) and one can observe an increase in hatred of Coalition and Iraqi troops and an increase in insurgency recruitment. Because of those events, the government was never able to truly be a government valued by the Iraqi people, because it was built on massacres of innocents and torture of prisoners. When the government began to fail, it was those who were oppressed and affected by these human rights abuses that jumped up to help topple it.
Finally, one of the major things that truly ruined the U.S. invasion of Iraq from an administrative perspective was the lack of a well-formulated exit strategy and measures to prevent insurgencies from rising. In early 2011, the U.S. forces had begun to withdraw. Being one of the few Coalition forces left in Iraq, the entire U.S. force, minus a few embassies and some defense contractors, left in mid to late 2011. There was little stability and the Iraqi government was, for the first time, dealing with their issues on their own. When the U.S. left Iraq, LTC Chrvala said, “An insurgency will rise and take over that entire country because there is no stability. It is a power vacuum just waiting to be filled.” This proved quite true and a terror group known as ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), rose quite quickly and began to gain traction after the U.S. left. The U.S. government just simply assumed it would be quite good enough to set up a country and just leave. The U.S. did not have any reactionary forces to help out the Iraqi people until the damage had been done by ISIS (Daniel). Because of the reasons already established, the lacking stability just further exacerbated the situation and ISIS grew even more. They had unchecked reign and people hated the government. Religious fanatics, vengeful Sunnis (as ISIS is a Sunni terror group), and people who had loved ones killed or mutilated by the Coalition or Iraqi forces began to join ISIS in huge numbers. ISIS then began to take hold and take lands for their declared “caliphate”. The government that was created by the U.S. simply did not have enough structure and was not capable of defending itself from such a threat as ISIS (Raphael). America also did not provide any suitable aid for our Iraqi allies because of the human toll from the previous war, so they were entirely defenseless when they began to split.
Consequently, it was the messy leadership of the invasion of Iraq that cost America and the Coalition the victory in the history books. Much like during the Vietnam war, the U.S. troops were almost entirely unbeaten on the field. It was leadership failures that doomed the Iraq War almost from its inception. Because of the Coalition’s lack of understanding of the religious differences between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, human rights violations during the campaign, lack of interest in building a successful government and preventing the rise of terror groups such as ISIS, the campaign that should have been wildly successful was in the end a failure.
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