Iraq – The Story So Far

Yesterday, five car bombs exploded in Baghdad in quick succession, killing at least twenty six people. Unfortunately, this atrocity is  just another addition to a lengthy list of grievances caused by extremist organisations across the country; towns, buildings and police offices have been stormed, and continuous fighting remains in areas like the Anbar Province. Iraq has been in a state of ever-increasing turmoil since Islamist militants began seizing parts of northern Iraq in June; Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was taken over by Isis extremists just last month and since then, Christians within the city are being forced to flee, pay a “protection tax” or face death if they refuse to convert to Islam. Suffice to say, the conflict has enhanced sectarian divisions across the country between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, and the Iraqi government, predominantly Shia, is under increasing pressure to take action before things spiral any further.

On Tuesday 15th July, Iraqi MPs broke their deadlock and elected a new parliamentary speaker. Salim al-Juburi won with 194 votes out of the 328 seat parliament. This marks the first significant step forwards towards forming a new government that is strong enough to tackle the rebel forces who have infested the country. Iraq now has thirty days to elect a new president, and a further fifteen to elect a prime minister, and with there currently being no notable leaning towards any particular candidate, it is likely that speculation and media coverage of the unfolding events will be at its peak in the next couple of weeks.

In 2003, after the US-led invasion, an informal agreement was undertaken in which it was decided that the speaker’s chair in Iraqi government would go to a Sunni; the presidency would go to a Kurd; and the position of prime minister would go to a Shia, and it is with this in mind that the government will proceed to appoint a trio of leaders adequately equipped to confront the country’s issues.

The current events unfolding in Iraq can be traced back to the first Gulf War of 1990, in which Iraq invaded Kuwait in early August. There were multiple reasons for Iraq’s hostility towards Kuwait; after the 1988 ceasefire between Iraq and Iran, Iraq was debt-ridden and owed a lot of money to Kuwait as well as to Saudi Arabia, and despite Iraq’s appeals to have the debts forgotten, neither country was willing to comply. Territory was another factor; Iraq was determined to reclaim Kuwai which had once been part of the Ottoman Empire’s province of Basra – an area Iraq still felt was rightfully its own. Kuwait was also accused of exceeding its OPEC quotas for oil production, which resulted in huge losses to the Iraqi economy. But by February 1991, a massive US-led military campaign forced Iraq to withdraw, and by April the UN had subjected Iraq to a Weapons Inspection Programme. The rest of the 1990s showcase a series of events that laid down the foundations for the 2003 Iraq War: encouraged by Iraq’s defeat against Kuwait, southern Shia and northern Kurdish populations began to rebel; Saddam Hussein won the referendum in 1995; in 1998 Iraq ended its cooperation with the UN Special Commission who were overseeing the destruction of their weapons of mass destruction which directly caused the launch of the US and UK bombing campaign – ‘Operation Desert Fox’ – aiming to destroy any weapons Iraq possessed; with little international support, America and the UK proceeded to carry out bombing raids, and eventually, with Iraq’s consistent lack of cooperation and compliance, it became apparent that America saw war as a likely outcome.

Tensions between Iraq and America have been apparent ever since the Cold War – Iraq is an ally of the Soviet Union – and this was heightened over various different stances taken towards global issues; America was sceptical of Iraq’s position on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as their ongoing tensions with Syria, and Iraq’s support of various Arab and Palestinian militant organisations such as Abu Nidal, served as further causes for concern. The 2003 war brought a lot of these tensions to a head, the brutal conflict has only resulted in relations worsening ever since. After the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006, the US dispatched thousands more troops to ensure security in the country, and although it was reported that the civilian death toll had decreased by the end of 2007, there were still numerous incidents and attacks across the country. It was not until 2008 when the security pact was approved, in which it was stated that US troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011; although this happened and, in some ways concluded one chapter of Iraq’s story, it also began another.

Ever since 2009 Iraqi politics has become even more complicated. The conflicting interests of the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions of the country continue to pose areas of disagreement, and with ongoing issues in both Iran and Syria, as well as the increasing presence of extremist groups such as The Islamic State and Isis being responsible for multiple attacks and a huge number of civilian casualties, it is unlikely to get any easier in the near future. However, by taking steps to elect new leaders, the Iraqi government is showing a desire for change in a diplomatic sense, and one can only hope that this leads to a more peaceful and productive future.

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Avni Bhagwan

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Third year History student from London with an unhealthy obsession with penguins :)