Donald Trump is mulling plans to pull American troops out of Syria. Although the American intervention in Iraq and Syria rejuvenated ISIS, withdrawal of the US forces now without independent and resourced Syrian and Iraqi armies would just be the repeat of Obama-era mistakes.
Who created ISIS?
Contrary to the rhetoric from the Republicans in the 2016 Presidential campaign, ISIS did not form under Obama. The roots go back to the Clinton era but back then it didn’t have sting it has today.
ISIS probably would have dissolved were it not for the US invasion of Iraq. ISIS did not threaten Iraq. Before the US invasion, Iraq had an army that fought the same people that American forces are fighting today in the region. It was one reason why Al Qaeda could not have a strong presence in Iraq. But when the US invaded Iraq, it dissolved the Iraqi army. The aim was to build a new one from the ground up that wouldn’t have the senior Sunni officers from the Saddam era.
Not only did it dismantle Iraq’s last line of defense against terrorist groups but it also made the Sunni minority resentful. They felt that the American forces and the Shia majority were persecuting them. Sunni officers who had until then lived a privileged life were now turned out. They lost their status, privilege, and the source of income. It made them resentful and vindictive.
It was during this time that Al-Qaeda got a foothold in Iraq. The Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led the AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) out of which came the modern ISIS we know today. By 2006, ISIS had become rejuvenated and was carrying out attacks on Shia mosques. With no way to earn a livelihood for Sunni officers, some began training terrorist recruits for cash. Sunni civilians who had grown vindictive due to the persecution by the Shia majority joined terrorist groups.
The US was quick to dismantle the Iraqi army but it moved at a snail’s pace to build the new one. Part of the reason for that was that the US did not want any opposition in Iraq. Due to this, the US ran Iraq as a colony even after Iraq had a ‘democratic setup’. This lack of an indigenous army force gave ISIS a new life.
American forces did not care about the Iraqi democracy and underestimated the level of resentment Shias and Sunnis alike had for them. So they shunned all calls to give Iraqi government full control over the Iraqi forces. The Iraqi army thus formed was under the US command and thus functioned more like a group of indigenous mercenaries than an army of a democratic state.
Why the American forces did so is an easy question to answer. The invasion of Iraq was never about the weapons of mass destruction or liberating the Iraqis. It was about surrounding Iran with military bases. There were US bases in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Due to their support for fundamentalist Islam, Saudis are allied to the US so they didn’t mind US bases on their land. Pakistan was a military dictatorship back then and reliant on aid from Bush Jr. so they left US setup intelligence network and military bases on the Pakistani land. Afghanis did not want US presence in their country so the US invaded it despite offers by the Afghanis to extradite Osama bin Laden.
With a base in Iraq, Iran would be surrounded. This is not a conspiracy theory. Members of the Blair government are on record saying that Pentagon knew Iraq didn’t have WMDs and concealed that fact from the British and the world.
In 2006, ISIS went through a change of leadership after Zarqawi died in a US strike. An Egyptian Islamist Abu Ayyub al-Masri took over. This is when the term ISI was coined. The second ’s’ would come later when the ‘Islamic State in Iraq’ had spread to Syria. For the sake of consistency, I will use ISIS all the way through.
President Bush sent more troops to Iraq in 2008 and convinced the local tribesmen to fight the terrorist groups. ISIS was hurt much like they are today but they still controlled considerable territory. When President Obama came into office, he pulled the troops out by turning the invasion more brutal with frequent use of airstrikes that mainly killed civilians.
Obama’s Intervention in Syria Helped ISIS
The troop pullout was one of the factors that rejuvenated ISIS in 2012. The other important factor was the American proxy war against Syria. The US armed the rebel forces against the Syrian army. Bashar-al-Assad began defending his own rule rather than fighting the terrorist forces taking over his country. With the Syrian army caught up in a domestic army, pull out of US forces, and lack of an independent Iraqi army, Obama created an environment that reinvigorated ISIS.
From that point on, ISIS has gone on to carry out beheadings, mass rape, smuggling, slavery, extortion, kidnapping, and inspired terrorist attacks around the world killing thousands of civilians.
So although President Obama did not create ISIS per se, his expansion of wars created the perfect climate for ISIS to regroup and strengthen.
Options Going Forward
Now that ISIS has once again been badly hurt, there are only two viable solutions.
Either the US forces stay stationed until ISIS has been completely defeated and they hold not even a precinct in Iraq or Syria. This, however, is a less practical solution. Terrorist groups can form in no time once there is no external oversight that stamps them out given that external oversight is in good graces of the public.
The second and more viable solution is to stop interfering in Syria and let Iraq be an independent state with an army of its’ own. The US has no right in determining who the ruler of a country is any more than Russia has a right to meddle in American elections to help a candidate of their choice. In Iraqi elections earlier this year, they voted for a Shia cleric who fought against the American forces.
The US wilfully ignored that clearest expression of hostility the majority of the Iraqi people feel for the American forces.
The writing on the door is clear. Iraqis want independence and the longer the US stays there, more hostility the Iraqis will feel against the American forces. But the US is unlikely to let Iraq be truly independent. For one, it goes against the precedents set by US foreign policy. American forces have hardly exited the countries where they were stationed. The US still has military bases in Germany, which doesn’t have any strategic value today.
Why would they exit Iraq, a region of strategic importance in the middle east? If it were left to Iraqis, they would try to have better ties with Iran today. Both are Shia majority countries that suffered under the US-backed Saddam regime. The US and more importantly Israel and Saudi Arabia would never want that and thus despite what the populist President may say, American forces will stay in Iraq and Syria for time indefinite.