Iraq: A Brief Overview, A Brief Argument

by / 1 Comment / 104 View / June 25, 2014

Iraq is once again in the headlines. There are new names: ISIS—Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—and Abu Bakr al­Baghdadi, who is proclaimed in American media outlets as the “new Osama Bin Laden.” Yet all things considered, the situation on the ground is more volatile than it was before the United States invaded Iraq. Sectarian violence, the influence of extremist groups, a lack government capacity to respond, and deep ethnic tensions have culmination in a conflict which can only aptly be named a civil war. Indeed, after over a decade of American military presence, after over a decade of “nation building,” and after an investment of over 4400 American lives and over $800 Billion, Iraq is fast becoming a failed state. When considering the current political circumstances of Iraq and the history of troop surges, any significant involvement with this conflict by the United States would be untenable.

The term “troop surge” was used over the past decade as a euphemism for deploying more American soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this term skewed the discourse; instead of considering why it was that more American soldiers were needed to secure a country that had a significant US military presence for years and instead of considering the consequences of escalating a war we were trying to withdraw from, we, when confronted by this term, questioned its objective. What would a troop surge accomplish? How many soldiers would be needed? The answers to these questions instantly destroyed any legitimate argument for a “troop surge” in Iraq.

Troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan were intended to bring about stability and security by increasing the presence of the United States military; in effect, troop surges functioned in Iraq as Soviet tanks functioned in Eastern Europe during the Cold War: instead of addressing the underlying political and social issues, military force was used in an oppressive manner—what else could house raids and arbitrary imprisonment be? In both cases it was a band aid, serving merely to slow an inevitable end. Similarly, underlying political and social issues are responsible for the current situation in Iraq.


The United States came as close as it ever has to entering into perpetual warfare in Iraq. The logistics of troops surges—supplies and equipment and housing—ensured that with each additional soldier, the United States became more entrenched in Iraq; and the more entrenched in Iraq the United States became, the more troops it would need. In this way, the temporary effectiveness of troop surges belied the reality on the ground. As soon as the soldier were withdrawn, violence would erupt with greater fervor than before. United States military presence in Iraq could only succeed in establishing a temporary, tenuous peace by exerting severe military oppression under the guise of building a democratic state—a state whose very capitol is now under threat.

George Orwell warned us about perpetual warfare in his 1984, when the citizens of Airstrip One were told without any justification that the enemy is now the ally. However, unlike the universe of 1984, the geopolitical nature of West Asia is far more convoluted. The United States opposes Iran and the regime of Bashar al­Assad in Syria; yet, both of them, in turn, oppose ISIS. And while the United States gives massive amounts of military aid to Saudi Arabia, it continues to be a pipeline for aid to ISIS. Furthermore, the Shiite Iraqi government under Nuri al­Maliki continues to oppress Sunnis in Iraq, even as the regime receives aid and sympathy from the United States. And let us not forget the Kurds of Northern Iraq, who were denied a state at the conclusion of World War I and have continued to be oppressed and marginalized, even by the current al­Maliki regime. Any further interventions on the part of the United States would accomplish nothing constructive.

We see the world in terms of “good” and “bad,” but this paradigm is far removed from reality; in intervening, if only to launch airstrikes, we risk being complicit in the oppression of minorities and further destabilizing the region. The politics are simply too dynamic, and the ethnic and cultural difference are simply too vast to bridge. United States military elements would constitute another variable in a situation well beyond anyone’s ability to predict.


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Martel, Frances. “New Report: Syria Joins Iran in Sending Military to Fight ISIS in Iraq.”Breitbart News Network. Breitbard , 17 June 2014. Web. 21 June 2014. <­Peace/2014/06/17/New­Report­Syria­Joining­Iran­in­Sending­Milit ary­to­Fight­ISIS­in­Iraq>.

Miks, Jason. “Iraq close to conditions that sparked civil war.” Global Public Square RSS. CNN World, 13 June 2014. Web. 21 June 2014. <­close­to­conditions­that­sparked­civil­ war/?hpt=hp_bn2>.

“Military & Security.” National Priorities Project. National Priorities Project, n.d. Web. 21 June 2014. <­on/military­security/>.

“The Kurd’s Story.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 June 2014. <>.

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  • Vishnu Rachakonda

    I don’t think your description of the troop surge is accurate. The troop surge, devised by David Petraeus, can be seen as an elevation of troop numbers to their proper levels, not an escalation of a war we sought to inject more brute force into. In 2002-2003, when debating the numbers needed to accomplish Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld overruled the military generals and experts at his disposal, and as Thomas Ricks, the noted military correspondent puts it, devised “perhaps the worst war plan in American history”. This involved sending in far less troops than his experts recommended, for a variety of stupid reasons.

    Additionally, your treatment of the troop surge seems to dismiss its tremendously valuable political core, which led to the Anbar Awakening, etc. The entire idea behind the surge was anything but “oppressive”.