A SERIES ON REFUGEES: Who They Are, Where They Come From, and Why They Had to Leave: Iraq

Iraq (9,880) (FY 2015 12,676)

The current state of Iraq stems from the vicious reign and eventual power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein, and the impact of international interventions. This video offers a short and simplistic overview of the Iraqi conflict. For the purposes of writing this article only I will refer to the group as Shia although an alternative spelling is Shiite. Sunni Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq in 1979 succeeding Baathist Ahmad Hasan Al-Bakr. The strong nationalist, Baathist party came to power via a coup 10 years after toppling the British-installed monarchy in 1958. As a Sunni, Saddam Hussein was in the 20% minority of a 63% majority Shia state. Sunni Muslims, however make up an estimated 80-90% of the world’s Muslim population. Iran and other states in the Middle East are also Shia and therefore have a vested interest in politics of Iraq. In 1980 the Pro-Iranian Dawah Party attacked Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz sparking the Iran-Iraq War. Meanwhile in 1981 an Israeli air raid destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor. The 8-year war between Iraq and Iran ended in a stalemate with over 500,000 deaths, roughly 500,000 permanently disabled troops and hundreds of billions in damages. In violation of international law both countries used chemical weapons and indiscriminate ballistic-missiles attacks with no regard for collateral damage and civilian losses. While Iran had the far superior military power, Iraq found support from Kuwait and regional power and long time rival of Iran, Saudi Arabia. The war ended in 1988 with both sides signing a UN-mediated peace agreement. Kurdish rebels took advantage of the war-weary nation to begin staking a claim for an ethnically Kurdish State. Iraq retaliates with a gas attack on Halabjah, a Iraqi Kurdish city. Saddam Hussein empowered by his military success invades Kuwait and rapidly overthrows the Kuwait emir to take control of 20% of the world’s oil reserves. In response to the invasion, the UN denounces the attack and issues a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq. On August 9th the U.S. began Operation Desert Shield to protect our ally in the region Saudi Arabia—also Sunni majority. After Iraq refused to vacate Kuwait, 700,000 UN troops, primarily from the U.S., but also from 31 other nations went into the Middle East to rid Kuwait of Iraqi troops called Operation Desert Storm in a 6-week offensive resulting in restoration of Kuwait and Iraqi surrender known as the Persian Gulf War. During the offensive 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded and another 100,000 civilians died from wounds, or lack of adequate water, food and medical supplies. At the conclusion of the offensive sanctions were enacted to get Iraq to disable their Weapons of Mass Destruction programs. Saddam Hussien refused and the Iraqi people suffered greatly with an estimated 1,000, 000 deaths as a result of the sanctions in place until the weapons were destroyed in 1998. The US and British initiate Operation Desert Fox bombing all remaining nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. Life improved for the average Iraqis for a time. In the after math of 9/11 U.S. President George W Bush identifies Iraq as a state-sponsor of terrorism and the U.S. launched a now controversial invasion in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein. With Saddam Hussein ousted, instability in the region and ensuing power vacuum, groups clashed in attempts to gain power. Suicide bombers and car bombs terrorized Baghdad and Ayatollah. Shia and Sunnis clashed in violent outbursts across the country. Images of U.S. soldiers torturing and humiliating detainees sparked outrage and were used in extremist recruitment materials. In 2004 the U.S.-sponsored, interim government fails to preserve peace and in-fighting begins between primarily Shia and Sunni forces. The U.S. lead a major offensive into Falluja to quell the uprising. In early 2005, 8 million Iraqis voted for a Transitional National Assembly, taking steps toward autonomously ruling Iraqi without U.S. intervention. As the year progressed violence escalated and the authority of the transitional government declined. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani became president and Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia, took office as the prime minister. Violence continued to build with more and more guerilla-style warfare like car bombs. Shias and Kurdish endorsed a drafted constitution, but Sunnis did not support it and the country did not pass it. Later,  a new constitution made Iraq an Islamic Federal Democracy and the majority of Iraqis voted in a real election for the first time in nearly 50 years. The country though dissolved into sectarian violence, as an average of 100 civilians died each day through 2005-2006. After Saddam Hussein was executed for war crimes and amidst continued violence primarily targeting Shia areas, US President Bush sends troops to Baghdad to work alongside Iraqi security forces. In response, Shia militant groups led a campaign of kidnappings and retaliation killings against the Sunni population. In 2007 bombings escalated and nearly 200 people died each day. Kurdish and Shia leaders continued allying themselves and blocking Sunni leaders from influencing government. From 2007 onward intervening forces slowly turned control of the government and security forces over to Iraq as death tolls dropped. In 2008 the U.S. handed once-Al-Qaeda controlled Anbar province back over to Iraqi security forces as the first Sunni province turned over to the Shia-led government. In 2009 the U.S. made plans to leave Iraq by 2011 and began giving more authority to Iraq. In June of 2009 the U.S. troops only existed as advisors to the Iraqi-controlled forces. Opposition forces began to rally but failed to win a majority in the 2009 elections. Near the end of 2009 attacks began again and the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks killing hundreds of people. Radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr returned to Iraq. In December of 2011 the U.S. pulled all remaining combat troops from Iraq. In 2012 Vice President Tariw al-Hashemi was sentenced to death for running death squads and fled to Turkey. In the middle of accusations of corruptions, and continued violence President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke opening the opportunity for Sunni Muslims to rally against the Shia-led government. Sectarian violence resumed and intensified to an all-out war. In July of 2013 at least 500 prisoners broke out of Taji and Abu Ghraib—many of whom were Al-Qaeda leaders and supporters. The Islamic State begian to attack Iraqi Kurdistan in response to Kurds fighting against ISIS in Syria. The two wars begin to merge leading to further violence. ISIS secured Fallujah and held the city against Iraqi forces. In 2014 ISIS took Mosul and key territory in the northern Anbar Province. Kurdish forces, the U.S. and Iran aided Iraqi forces until Kurdish Region President Massoud Barzani announced plans for an independence referendum in July 2014, but agreed to put the referendum on hold when Shia politician Haider Al-Abda proposed an inclusive government with Sunnis, Kurds and the Iraqi government agreed to share oil wealth and military resources with the Kurdish Region. The U.S., with international support began air raids in Iraq against ISIS. In 2015 ISIS retook Ramadi and held territory as demonstrations against the government led by Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr occupied the streets in Baghdad. In 2016 with U.S. support government forces re-took territory held by ISIS including Mosul and Fallujah. Moqtada Al-Sadr stormed parliament demanding more government representation and an end to government corruption. In response the government recognized the Shia Popular Mobilisation Units in full legal status as part of the Iraqi military. The protests subsided. The refugees fleeing Iraq are fleeing ISIS and other extremist groups, and therefore, are our allies. As ISIS is pushed out of the country we should see this number continue to decline as long as Haider Al-Abadi’s government continues to support Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and other minorities and the economy gathers traction in a much needed reconstruction of war-weary cities. The fighting in Syria could also reopen wars in Iraq as Syria and Iraq share a border and many of the same international players have vested interests in both countries. I would be remiss not to mention that ISIS is an idea and much more difficult to get rid of than a governing power with borders. All-out war with ISIS continues especially in the northern provinces around Mosul and Kurdish areas. The Iraqi soldiers are our allies and taking the brunt of casualties in removing ISIS from Iraq. With a more inclusive government, the peace process continues to make progress.

UNHCR Iraq Page

IRC’s page on Iraq again this is a pro-refugee organization and therefore not a traditional news source.

NY Times’ overview of the Iraqi War published in 2008

BBC Country Profile Timeline: Iraq

BBC Country Profile Overview: Iraq

History’s Article on Iran-Iraq War

History’s Iraq Invades Kuwait

Council on Foreign Relations Iraqi War Timeline

Britannica’s Iraq War Entry (note the contents tab with additional info.)

Time’s “Seven Years in Iraq: An Iraq War Timeline

UNHCR’s Global Focus Page on Syria and Iraq

As this conflict involves the U.S. there is an abundance of credible sources and detailed accounts of our time in Iraq.


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