The Legacy Of Imperialism In Iraq: From The U.S. To IS

Spearhead Analysis – 13.08.2014

By Halima Islam
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

isisIraq, a country being the political by-product of various imperialist trends now, stands in what could possibly be the country’s most critical situation. Historically, the region being what various historians may deem as the ‘cradle of civilization’ has seen civilizations warring over what they think is rightfully theirs. From the Arab invasions, the Ottomans and then Western colonialists, the region has seen an assortment of imperialists embed their power and as a result carry out severe persecution against the populous present, poised in the form of collateral damage. The current most damaging -what one could render as ‘imperialists-’ are the ISIS folk who have taken into account legitimizing killings of innocents based on the grounds of religio-ethnic differences. The ancient practices of the Yezidis amongst the ethnic minority kurds; an extreme Shi’i sect that assimilated certain Islamic beliefs into its already-present Zoroastrian culture, have been out-casted from Islam entirely and have been quoted to be Satanists by the Sunni regimes that followed post 1164 AD. In the centuries that followed, embracing taqqiya (an act of going into hiding for fear of persecution) seemed insufficient in them concealing their religious identity, as the post-colonial era saw fresh attacks on their Kurdish ethnicity as well. So now not only is it a war between Imperialists of varying nature and backgrounds but a battle between the kinds of minorities- be it religio-ethnic minorities or just ethnic minorities-that should be the ‘wipe-out’ target. Amidst all these crises these elements have ignored the consequences of the injustices being carried out on the Iraqi population.

This piece aims to build upon the argument that the ISIS and other foreign elements in the past and present such as the US being the most current, has the same agenda and can be associated with each other. One is a result of the other’s invasion and in reality, is executing similar tactics to gain control. So the question then arises is; Is ISIS any different? And why is it that their brutality upon the Iraqis is given more precedence over the US who has been heavily criticized of carrying out war crimes in Iraq?

The US’s Petro War

The US invasion in 2003 has been controversially legitimized on many fronts. Many academics term it as a ‘humanitarian intervention’ whilst others say that Saddam Hussain harbored weapons of Mass destruction. Other critics have evaluated the situation by saying the US intervention in Iraq was based on self-interest and when the petro-dollar issue arose and in turn led to Iraq’s petro-sanctions on the US, led Bush’s fume into the region. In all three narratives, civilian casualties of an enormous number, irrespective of their ethnicity were incurred. History in this case repeated itself and although it was termed as an invasion, it has traits mirroring the colonial, imperialist powers. Bush administered a war that initially seemed legitimate in the eyes of the shi’ite Iraqi who constitute a majority in the country, but the repercussions it produced after that is only getting worse and the anti-American sentiment mirrors that of the anti-colonial sentiment midst the a) Ottoman empire and b) the British era. The sentiment during the Ottoman Empire revered into the great Arab revolt and the British colonial rule succumbed to the Ba’athist Iraq; a party Saddam was affiliated with. This time, however the people were quick enough to realize that the Americans were here to stay and were deploying the exact measures, as the empires before them.

Amongst various groups in Iraq and the Ba’athists, militancy groupings arose against the West but soon dug out sectarian differences all whilst the U.S. watched unknowingly of the consequences of their war. The groups, being technologically inferior to the west by miles, splintered and took arms against its people.

Collateral damage in wars seem to be a given and the massacres target a community as a whole. Even though the US embraced the same strategy, it did not only target Ba’athist Iraqis but the general populous was caught up in between. One can then question; were their targets, subconsciously, somewhat based upon the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs as well? Because, that is what it ultimately resulted in- as was the case amongst colonial powers in the past

Islamic State (IS): the Neo- Imperialist?

As mentioned earlier, the Islamic State tracing its roots back to 2007 when it broke off from Al-Qaeda, has taken control of northern Iraq and is ordering mass killings of religio-ethnic minorities such as the Yezidis. The word ‘control’ itself suggests an imperialist state of mind; one that the U.S. hasn’t shied away in perpetuating either. IS-being of Sunni heritage- legitimizes itself by declaring that they are to claim back the land that is rightfully theirs; a stark difference to the interests the U.S. has shown. However, in order to get to that theory, they are wiping out a race that they believe should not have existed in the first place. Imperial factions before the Iraq war again used measures of the same tactics.

IS’s neo-imperialism has resultantly stemmed from the U.S’s presence in Iraq. It is interesting to then analyze the fact that the groups wanting to rid a country of not only religio-ethnic minorities but of the remnants of the western presence as a whole, are turning into the foreign elements they despise. Again, history repeating itself. The difference between IS’s imperialistic mannerisms and America’s is the strategies of force they are implementing. One uses extreme violence whilst the other, after war and as a result creating the vacuum for groups to rise, now uses policies to control and toy with the masses mindsets.

Iraq has seen distinct imperialist versions-all with a similar agenda- entering its sovereignty. The Arab conquests, the Ottomans military excursions and ultimate control, the weakened British Empire, the Ba’athists, the U.S. and now IS. In each case ethnic and religio-ethnic minorities have suffered as a result and the notion ‘control’ as mentioned earlier has always prevailed. Reports in the recent years have denoted that weapons of mass destruction never surfaced and that the chemical weapons Saddam used against the Kurds were funded by the US. So, one should probe into their legitimacy of invading in the first place. Was it just the arrogance of the U.S. when Saddam refused to sell oil on a unilateral agreement of the dollar price?

Power politics and the need in spreading it (imperialism?) is a game no party has/had washed its hands from, be it the paranoia of the U.S which leads it to carry out pre-emptive strikes in many regions inclusive of Iraq, the ‘islamic’ claims of the IS of taking back what is/was theirs through violence-entrenched control or Saddam through his dictatorial rule. They have all-what seems like- played similar roles as the other and have successfully worked in cultivating the turmoil Iraq is in today.