The Iraq War, The US, and rise of Terrorism.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq because of its alleged connections to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, at the time Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, ruled the country. He was part of the ‘sunny minority’ and suppressed the ‘Shia majority’. Iraq was conquered fairly quickly, but the US had no plan for the country.
The until-then suppressed Shia majority took over and began oppressing the Sunnis because suppressing other faith has proved to be such a good idea. Unsurprisingly, s Sunni rebel uprising began, and terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, trickled into Iraq. And local forces, often former Sunni military, began fighting the US troops and the newly formed Iraqi state, peaking in a bloody civil war in 2006.
Since then, people in Iraq have basically been segregated by religion. So, in a tragic irony of history, the US invasion lead to the formation of the very terrorists the US wanted to eliminate in the first place. Because Iraq was now the perfect training ground for terrorism.
Muslim Faith and Islam: Shia and Sunni.
To understand this complicated conflict better, we need to understand the relationship between the two main branches of the Muslim faith: Shia and Sunni Islam. Sunnis make up of 80% of the Islamic world and Shia about 20%. And the hard-liners on both sides don’t like each other very much.
Saudi Arabia with the ‘Sunni Majority’ and Iran with the ‘Shia Majority’ are the two most powerful players in the game of faiths. They both have no separation of state and religion, domestic problems, and a lot of oil money. And they support groups that fight the other religious orientation. And one of those terror organizations supported by Saudi Arabia was the Islamic State of Iraq or ISI for short.
The Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria is located in the middle east. An ancient fertile land settled for at least 10,000 years. Since the 1960s, It’s been led by Al-Assad family. ‘Hafiz Al-Assad’ lead the country from 1971 to 2000. He was the father of the current president cum dictator ‘Bashar al-Assad’. Hafiz Al-Assad during his presidency focused on modernizing Syria but he suppressed rights of people and their voice against him.
Bashar al-Assad, second son of Hafiz Al-Assad and the current president of Syria Initially signaled that he would be different from his father. As the time passed, the world came to realize that he is no different than his father. In fact, he is more cruel and merciless than his father used to be. He tightened the restriction to free speech, Isolated the economy and left very clear that democratic rule wasn’t in his plans. Also, He gave orders to initiate chemical weapons attack against his own people.
The Arab Spring: Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, and Syria
Since the 1960s, Syria has been lead by Al-Assad family, who have ruled it as quasi-dictators until the Arab spring happened in 2010-2011. A revolutionary wave protests and conflicts in the Arab world, that toppled many authoritarian regimes.
During the Arab Spring, In Egypt and Tunisia, the uprisings were quick and decisive. In Libya, the protests led to a short civil war that ended with the death of Muammar Gaddafi. But Syria is a different story. The Assads refused to step down and started a brutal civil war.
The Arab Spring: The start of the protests in Syria.
12 years of repression had to pass from the start of Assad’s term in 2000, before thousands of people following the example of Egyptians and Tunisians, took to the streets to demand reforms. At first, Assad’s stance was conciliatory, but the repression continued. Which in turn, multiplied protests around the country. The army answered by opening fire against the demonstrators. Hundreds died and thousands more were arrested.
Any chance of peaceful resolution died with the demonstrators. Small groups of armed rebels started to appear almost immediately. Since then the government and rebels are mired in a war that claimed lives of more than 60,000 Syrians in first 18-month of conflict back in 2012. Some Syrian troops even joined the rebels after the massacre happened in Syria.
Syria: Protesters turns into rebels.
Assad who was receiving help from Iran started a gruesome civil war against his own people. Bashar al-Assad also released jihadist prisoners into rebel groups so that it would get difficult for foreign backers like the US to support the uprising against him. The longer the war went on, more foreign groups joined the fight. Most of them for religious reasons, and with a goal of building an Islamic state in the region. And one of them was the infamous ISI, which now became Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
To know more in detail about ‘Syria’s War and Who is fighting and why?’ watch this video by Vox.
Syrian War: Entry of ISIS.
ISIS had fought in Iraq for years and had thousands of well-trained and fanatic soldiers. They already quasi-controlled part of northern Iraq and were very determined to build their religious state. And they changed the game in Syria like no-one expected.
Violent ISIS: Al-Qaeda makes a public statement that they are not with ISIS.
ISIS was so unbelievably violent and radical that soon it was a war with almost every other faction of the Syrian rebel armies. They attacked and killed members of other Muslim terrorist groups. In territories they controlled, they built an Islamic State with rules so strict that even the hard-liners of al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia were shocked and withdrew their support. And this lovely gathering of human beings in around 2014 decided that it is a time to take more territory in Iraq.
The ISIS: Control over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
Since the US left Iraq, the former Shia Prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had monopolized power and discriminated against Sunnis wherever possible. The government of Iraq was widely regarded as being corrupt, incapable and it’s certainly heated by large parts of its citizens.
By June 2014, ISIS had conquered a big chunk of Iraq, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. They had stolen hundreds of millions from captured banks making them richest terror organization on the planet earth. But lately, things have changed for ISIS, with the capture of Mosul back by the government-backed army. And many other developments had happened.
Syrian Civil War: Crimes against Innocent Civilians.
Different ethnicities, religious groups and other organizations like Islamic Front, YPG, Hezbollah, Syrian Government forces, opposition forces fought each other in changing coalitions in Syria. ISIS a militaristic jihadist group used the opportunity and entered the chaos with the goal to build a totalitarian Islamic caliphate. Very quickly, It became one of the most violent and successful extremist organizations on earth.
All sides including Syrian government, ISIS, and many other committed horrific war crimes using chemical weapons, mass executions, torture on a large scale, and repeated deadly attacks on civilians. The Syrian population was trapped between the regime, rebel groups, and the religious extremists.
Middle East’s Cold War: Why UN is not intervening into Syria?
A natural question comes to mind that after all this why isn’t the US, Europe or the UN is doing anything? Mainly because Russia and China have blocked any kind of International efforts against Assad in UN using their Veto power. Russia and China have interests in Syria and their leaders believe the Arab Spring hasn’t brought security or stability to the region.
To know more about interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, The US, and Russia in Middle East’s cold war. Watch this video by Vox.
The story of Syrian refugees: And the neighbors.
There are over 4.3 Million Syrian refugees. A third of the Syrian people have been displaced within Syria, While over four million have fled the country. The vast majority of them reside now in camps in the neighboring countries, who are taking care of over 95% of refugees. At present, there are over 1.9 Million refugees in Turkey, 1.2 Million in Lebanon, 2,50,000 in Iraq, 6,50,000 in Jordan and 1,30,000 are in Eygept.
The story of Syrian refugees: The Arab State of Persian Gulf.
While the Arab state of the Persian Gulf together has accepted zero Syrian refugees, Which has been called especially shameful by Amnesty International. The UN and the world food program were not prepared for a refugee crisis on this scale. As a result, many refugee camps are crowded and undersupplied, subjecting people to cold hunger, and disease.
The story of Syrian refugees: The Asylum in Europe.
The Syrian lost hope that their situation will be getting better any time soon, so many decided to seek asylum in Europe. Between 2007 and 2014, the Europian Union had invested about 2 Billion Euro in defenses, high tech security technology, and border patrols. But not a lot in preparation for an influx of refugees. So it was badly prepared for the storm of asylum seekers.
In the EU, a refugee has to stay in the state they arrive in first, which put enormous pressure on the border states that were already in trouble. Greece in the midst of an economic crisis on the scale of the Great Depression was not able to take care of so many people at once, leading to terrible scenes of desperately hungry people on the island. That usually reserved for tourists.
The story of Syrian refugees: Mare Nostrum.
The world needed to come together and act as a united front, but instead, it has become more divided. Many states downright refused to take in any refugees, leaving the border states alone their struggle.
In 2014, UK lobbied to stop a huge search and rescue operation called ‘Mare Nostrum’. Mare Nostrum was designed to stop asylum seekers from drowning in the Mediterranean sea. The idea seems to have been that a higher death toll on the sea would mean fewer asylum seekers trying to make the journey. But, of course, in reality, that’s not what happened.
The story of Syrian refugees: Photos of the dead boy lying face down on the beach in Turkey.
The perception of the crisis around the world suddenly changed when photos circulated of a dead boy from Syria found lying face down on a beach in Turkey. Germany announced that it will, without exception, accept all Syrian refugees.
All over the west, more and more people are beginning to take action, although support for asylum seekers has mostly come from citizens and not from politicians of EU.
The story of Syrian refugees: Fears of the western world.
But there are fears in the western world: Islam, high birth rates, crime, and the collapse of social systems. The fear that refugees lead to higher crime rates also turned out to be wrong. According to studies, refugees who become immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native population. When allowed to work, they tend to start businesses and integrate themselves into the workforce as fast as possible, paying more into the social systems than they extract from them.
The story of Syrian refugees: Slowly changing time.
The tiny Jordan has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees. The UK which has 78 times the GDP of Jordan, has only said it will allow 20,000 Syrians across its borders from 2015 to 2020. The US has agreed to 10,000, Australia 12,000 people.
Overall, things are slowly getting better, but not fast enough. We are writing history right now. How do we want to be remembered? As xenophobic rich cowards behind the fences? We have to realize that these people fleeing death and destruction are no different from us. Let’s do the best we can as of nations and individuals.
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