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The War in Iraq

Background and Timeline

There can be no real understanding of the injustice inherent in the Iraqi war without a sense of how the two nations have interacted, and for decades.    As will be evident, the U.S./Iraqi relationship has been one consistently defined by shifting political and economic agendas, and from both sides.   The involvement of major world powers in Persian Gulf affairs has long been  a complicated and volatile affair, and the U.S. policy in Iraq, ranging over many years, perfectly reflects this explosive, and frequently contrary, character.

In the 1970s, new Iraqi President Saddam Hussein established very cordial relations with the Soviet Union, and this was alarming to the Nixon government at home;  in that era, there were few fears greater than the spread of Soviet communism, so President Nixon authorized extensive CIA monitoring of Iraq's dealings with the USSR.    Moreover, the U.S., along with its European allies, funded the Iraqi Kurds in rebelling against Hussein's regime, a strategy doomed when the assistance drove Iraq into friendship with Iran, to neutralize the Kurd threat common to both.   Fueling this Hussein victory was the lack of interest in Iraqi/Soviet relations evinced by Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford.   Similarly, the Carter administration remained apart from the Gulf situation when, in the 1980s, Iraq broke into armed conflict with Iran over territorial disputes.   As the Soviet Union's power was waning, there was no incentive or attraction for the U.S. in supporting either Hussein or Iran's Ayatollah (Ohaegbulam, 2007,  p. 98), and the government's attention was primarily directed at pressing domestic issues.   Lack of interest in Gulf affairs  would occur soon again; it is widely accepted that George Bush lost the 1992 presidency to Bill Clinton chiefly because the nation was desirous of a return to a non-interventionist, Carter-era, stance (Seliktar, 2008,  p. 55).   These are, it must be noted, critical elements, as they indicate how certain domestic circumstances and tides of feeling, often abetting and reflecting the changes in administrative ideologies, largely dictate international policy.

September 11, 2001, changed everything.   The Al-Qaeda terrorist bombings in New York City and elsewhere immediately prompted an extreme reaction, which manifested itself as a fiercely aggressive, righteous demand for retaliation on the part of the people.   In short order, information was disseminated as to Al-Qaeda as having been responsible for the attacks, yet the diverse composition and locations of this organization denied  Americans a clear target.   Osama Bin Laden was the primary force and leader, it was understood, but the average citizen was deprived of a specific nation to blame.    This was a form of warfare new, not only because of the unprecedented nature of the strikes themselves, but because Arab ideologies, and not national borders, were defining the enemy.   This very confusion enabled the Bush administration to tie national fears of further attack to its own agenda of displacing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.   For some years, the conservative powers in Washington had been unhappy with the lenient dealing applied to Hussein, whose regime was dictatorial, and aggressively hostile to U.S. allies Israel and Kuwait (Downing, 2005,  p. 16).   Removing Hussein would vastly benefit U.S. interests, and 9/11 provided what appeared to be an excellent motive; all that needed to be done was establish a political and/or ideological link between Hussein and Al-Qaeda.   More to the point and less difficult to assert, it was essential that it be known that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), for the sudden and immense anti-Arab feeling overtaking the nation required little more incentive than that, to support an invasion.

This is not to aver that Saddam Hussein's regime was not dangerous, nor a concern requiring vigilant attention.   By 2002, it was most certainly a source for international debate, particularly as fueled by President Bush's outspoken stance against Iraq.   The President's decision in 2003 to invade Afghanistan was not greatly censured, as that nation was a known locus for Al-Qaeda activities.   Iraq, however, was a different story, certainly to international eyes.   Hussein was vocally anti-America,  but nonetheless perceived by most U.S. allies as something of a paper tiger.   It appears that there was a great deal of reluctance from other other world powers as to what measures could be appropriately taken.   Ultimately, only the United Kingdom supported the President's aggressive policy regarding Iraq, as China, France, Germany and Russia were in favor of actions less overt, and more directed towards containing any potential threat from Hussein (Downing,  2005, p. 18).   In basic terms, and contrary to American feeling and the government's stance, there was no international backing for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

After the war was initiated in March of 2003, the U.S. enjoyed a sustained sense of validation, one fed by the media and greatly exploited by the government.   In the beginning months, American casualties were virtually non-existent, and it seemed as though a righteous action was coming to a seamless and effective fruition of its objectives.   This spirit of an American cause as a virtually blessed enterprise culminated in “Operation Red Dawn” in December of 2003, with the capture of Saddam Hussein (Neville,  2008,  p. 43).   The Iraqi President would be tried and executed three years later.   Unfortunately, the war devolved from this apparent victory into a chaotic situation.   Rebel forces and Iraqi citizens, still supportive of Hussein and/or hostile to Americans, were by no means pleased by the U.S. “liberation” of their country, as resistance met efforts to assist the Iraqis in establishing a republican regime.   For years following Hussein's capture, Americans at home would be exposed to increasing reports of American fatalities.  Shockingly, it was largely the freed Iraqi population killing American troops; from 2005 until at least 2007, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or “homemade bombs”, were the chief cause of combat deaths (Bergen, 2011,  p. 170).   This became known at home, through journalists on the scene.   The incomprehensible reality was that the rescued were killing their saviors.

Simultaneously, a growing number of investigations were publicly challenging the Bush administration's initial assertion of WMD as having been in Iraq's possession.   What had begun as a justified reprisal and effort to ensure U.S. safety was unraveling into an international tangle of unrevealed motives, undesirable outcomes, and highly suspect practices conducted at the highest levels of authority.   In the nation of Iraq itself, these latter years were marked by extraordinary rises in civilian unrest and killings.   In one April day of 2007, 200 civilians died in bombings; over 250 were killed on an August day, when truck bombs were used in two Kurds villages.   By June of 2009, however, U.S. troops were being withdrawn, as the new government of Prime Minister al-Miliki began to take hold and impose order.   The last U.S. combat force was recalled from Iraq by President Obama in August of 2010 (BBC News); nonetheless, a U.S. military presence remains in Iraq, ostensibly as a support mechanism, and episodes of civil violence continue to erupt within the country.   In a rather striking reversal of a traditional war progression, the Iraq conflict began as a streamlined effort, anticipated as a brief and effective liberation of a people and deposition of a dictator, and devolved into an increasingly violent and turbulent arena of war.