Going Down in Flames, or a Catching Up on the Mess in Iraq

Alright, so I was at work this morning and saw a newspaper with an article tucked away in the corner about the current situation in Iraq and I thought, with all of this news coverage of Iraq at the moment surely some people might like a quick history lesson.  Well I am glad to help and here it is:

The People of Iraq

Contrary to popular belief in the West, Iraq (like most countries) is pretty religiously diverse.  The majority of the population are Muslim but there are also a number Christians throughout as well as other minority groups such as the Yazidis whom you may have been hearing a lot about lately.  There is also division within the Muslim population.  Some are Sunnis and some are Shi’ite (sometimes spelled Shia) which I’m not going to explain right now but maybe in a bit.  The north of the country is under the authority of Iraq, but is semi-autonomous and run by the Iraqi Kurdish population.

The Saddam Era

Saddam Hussein and the Baath party came to power in 1979 and ruled Iraq until the US led invasion in 2003 when his government was deposed and he went into hiding before being caught, tried, and executed.  As I’m sure everyone knows, Saddam was your typical dictator; tyrannical, all powerful, greedy, and willing to kill his own people.  In 1980 Saddam (Sunni Muslim) started a war with Iran (Shia controlled) which lasted 8 years and cost 500,000+ lives.  The war was full of human rights violations including chemical warfare.

Operation Desert Storm
Images from Operation Desert Storm in 1991. American forces launched an blitz campaign which overwhelmed Iraq’s elite Republican Guard and the ended the war in a month.

In 1990 Saddam invaded the small nation of Kuwait under the guise of defending it’s oil reserves and to avoid having  to repay the debts  acquired from the previous war with Iran.  During this time, Saddam began talking  a lot about the Holy Cities of Islam (Mecca and Medina which are both in Saudi Arabia) and the Saudi’s role in governing them.  Because this was jeopardizing US interests in the Middle East we intervened  by sending troops to the Saudi-Kuwait border in a move that was called Operation Desert Shield.  A few months later, after Saddam’s refusal by American demands to withdraw from Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm began with our incursion to liberate Kuwait.  A month later the war was over and Iraq surrendered.

“The Smoking Gun” and the Occupation

10 years later America was attacked by Sunni extremists.   Members of Al-Qaeda hijacked 4 airliners and crashed 3 of  them into American landmarks on September 11.  The immediate American response of launching airstrikes and an eventual ground invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Al-Qaeda militants, but 2 years later the case had been made for an invasion of Iraq.  In 2003 America had established the “Coalition of the Willing” and Operation Iraqi Freedom

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

began.  Not long after the invasion began Saddam’s regime had fallen and an American occupation had begun, one that would last nearly 10 years.

I could keep going on about the war in Iraq, but for the sake of and staying on point we’ll jump to 2004.  In the months following the collapse of the Iraqi government the Coalition was working hard to set up a new government and provide security but the Insurgency had begun.  It was in  2004 that coalition forces launched a campaign against the insurgents in the city of Fallujah.  In Fallujah was a young man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was detained by American forces, but we’ll talk more about him later.

Long  story short, there was an American troop surge, an election, a worldwide economic crisis, the Great Recession, a Tea Party, and a new president before the end of combat operations in Iraq… and then the Arab Spring.

Viva la Revolucion!

It started with a revolution in Tunisia.  Non-violent protests led to the ousting of the nations leader and soon it spread to Egypt… and Yemen… and Oman… and Syria… and Morocco… and Libya… and there was much rejoicing (and counter-protests).  There was a lot of confusion around the events of the Arab Spring as governments were toppled and protests were crushed but the place we want to focus on is Syria.

I won’t go into detail here about Syria but the protesters told President Assad to leave.  He said, “No.”  They protested.  He had the army shoot them.  Eventually militias gathered and several rebel groups were fighting the government, and before long the Islamists who would seek to rule under Sharia law (no I won’t explain it now, but it’s bad… really really bad unless your a male Muslim).  Among these groups were al-Qaeda of both Syria  and Iraq, out of whom would come the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Caliphate

ISIS waged an extremely effective campaign in Iraq defeating the American armed and trained Iraqi army in conflict after conflict.  They captured towns, oil fields, chemical weapons facilities, and even the country’s second largest city of Mosul.

Now before continuing I feel it’s important to pause and give a very quick (and overly simplified) rundown of one of the main divisions between Sunni and Shi’ite.  It has to do with Muhammad’s heir.  Shi’ite belief is that the family of Muhammad would be the rightful heir to Islam.  On the other hand, Sunni’s believe that an elected leader (known as the Caliph) would be the heir.  Why is this important?  Well according to Sunni end times beliefs (eschatology) a Caliphate (Muslim kingdom) would be established under the Caliph and would bring peace to the world by making everyone Muslim and  purging the rest… and ISIS just recently declared their rapid gains to be the institution of the Caliphate and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (see above in 2004), has been named the Caliph, the ruler of all Muslims.

Genocide,  the Kurds, and Iraq’s Stupid Government

So ISIS, now the Islamic State (IS), is doing what they believe is appointed for the Caliphate.  Bring peace to all true Muslims (Sunnis) and all other religions and the heretics (other Muslim sects) must recant and convert to Sunni Islam or die.  They have been killing en mass, crucifying Christians (the appropriate death for a Christian according to Sharia Law), beheading children and displaying them in parks and playgrounds, and hunting down other minority groups.  According to recent reports, they are now setting up a sex trafficking ring forcing Christian women into sexual slavery.  I mean these  guys are so crazy that even al-Qaeda has come out and rebuked them.

IS has been said to have the capacity to potentially take Baghdad, and they’ve recently begun a campaign against the Kurds in the north.  Most of us, myself included, thought the Kurds would be able to stand against them (they’re kind of the most stable thing in Iraq) and in very short time the Kurdish capital of Irbil was under siege and so airstrikes were authorized.

With all of this craziness going on I’m glad to report that the Iraqi government has regrouped and has a sound plan for confronting the IS threat! said no one ever.  No, with the country on the line, the politicians are arguing.  The Prime Minister nominated a new president (it’s not election time) and President Malaki was like, “You what?  No.  I will fight you!”

And there you have it.  That’s most of what I know and I hope it’s helpful to someone out there.   Please pray for everyone in Syria and Iraq.  Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are being systematically persecuted in what many politicians are finally acknowledging as a genocide.  And pray for all the children who are caught in the middle of this, losing their parents, their limbs, and their innocence.  May God help us and save them.

Correction: Malaki is the prime minister, not the president.  My bad.


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