US policy on the Arab Spring in the Wake of the Iraq War

9th April 2016

On this day 13 years ago the USA and its allies occupied Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq; a country already decimated by a decade of US-imposed economic embargo, which according to the UN killed 1 million Iraqi civilians (half of them children). After the fall of Baghdad the US invited known Iranian agents (during the Iran-Iraq war of the 80s) such as Nouri Al-Maliki into the transitional government and promoted them.

Today, the new Iraqi regime is one of the main military backers of the Syrian government.

The invasion of Iraq is often cited as a reason for Western “inaction” in Syria. However the US is not inactive in Syria, it has launched thousands of bombing raids, including dozens of non-ISIS rebel groups; it has maintained a policy of close arms-supervision (which the US terms “vetting”) which for 5 years has massively hindered the provision of serious military aid to the Syrian revolutionary forces, and has turned a blind eye to the influx of foreign Iranian-backed militias from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan (all American-backed countries which both officially and unofficially support the Assad regime).

No one asked for the American invasion of 2003, or the decade of economic embargo that destroyed the country’s infrastructure beforehand. That the US invasion was not about bringing democracy or freedom could be discerned not only by the crimes and the theft of Iraq’s wealth by the occupation (or the dismantlement of a regional power centre, i.e. the reasons which were the real motives of the occupation), but also by the system of governance that the US administration set in the aftermath. After the invasion the US did not institute a pluralist system of government in which all could participate regardless of their sect or background, it did not outlaw sect-based parties as would supposedly be expected by a “secular” nation – instead it instituted a system of legal sectarianism in which sect was the basis for political organisation and elections, and government based on sectarian quotas. This all furthermore occurred in a non-autonomous, centralised system of governance, meaning that central control over disempowered and marginalised sects was ensured.

A crucial event most forgotten however in the lead-up to the rise of ISIS were the “stolen” Iraqi elections of 2010. At this time ISIS (or ISI as it was then) had been driven underground by a Sunni awakening in 2008, in exchange for promises from the US occupation authorities that the pro-Iranian Iraqi regime would stop its persecutions and marginalisation of the country’s Sunni community. This promise never manifested.

In 2010, the ruling pro-Iran party of Nouri Al-Maliki was defeated by the “Iraqi Party” of Iyad Allawi, a Shia politician who nonetheless ran on a cross-sectarian platform and received massive Sunni support. Large Sunni participation in the election led to Allawi’s party gaining the greatest number of seats in the parliament.

However the Iranian-backed Nouri al-Maliki refused to resign and held on to power, with his theft of the election coming with the direct abettal of the US authorities. Even the concept of fair elections at the ballot box had not been delivered by the US. This sent a clear message to Iraq’s Sunni community that their post-invasion troubles was not just a result of their “democratically” losing of power, but something to their minds that was more sinister.

Ultimately Saddam Hussein was a ruthless ruler, who like all melgomaniacs believed his people were a price worthy of sacrifice for his remaining in power. Many of his followers are today the leaders of ISIS. Yet the US invasion essentially replaced one dictatorial system with another. On examination of US policy after the invasion, it was clear that “democracy” was not only a secondary motive to the invasion – it wasn’t a motive at all.

The battle to free Iraq from dictatorship had to come from the Iraqi people, and indeed Iraq joined the Arab Spring protests. These were repressed by Maliki and Iranian-backed militias, again with the United States turning a blind eye (helped by a lack of media coverage, which, owing to the poor, tribal and rural character of the areas in revolt meant that the protests were not covered on any scale compared to that of cosmopolitan Egypt, Tunisia or Syria). This is the context which when all else failed, ISIS came in and exploited Sunni grievances as a lesser evil to a vindictive central government.

The US and its allies invaded Iraq under the guise of “democracy”, and yet when people uprisings not been seen before in a century occurred across the region, the US stated that it would support such movements (against regimes which were all collaborationist with it to varying extents). What is the US’s record here?

In Syria, the United States has turned a blind eye to the historically unprecedented use of an airforce by a domestic side of a civil war. The Syrian regime’s prolonged aerial campaign on its rebellious towns and cities (2012-today) has never been employed for such a duration by a domestic actor in a civil war.

The US has also carried out joint bombings with the Syrian regime and repeatedly struck opposition factions to Bashar al-Assad.

In Bahrain, the US turned a blind eye to the Saudi invasion and repression of the Bahraini uprising.

In Iraq the US turned a blind eye to the Iranian invasion and repression of the Iraqi uprising.

In Egypt, the US turned a blind eye to the military coup of Sisi, and later declared support for it.

In Yemen, the US has been caught between supporting the ancien regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and supporting the economic interests behind Saudi’s military campaign.

In Tunisia, the US refused to support the overthrow of Ben Ali.

Libya remains the only place where the Western powers answered the calls of the revolutionaries there, though US support was dragged by its more enthusiastic European allies, who probably felt that if history needed an example of Western support against one of the many brutal counter-revolutions (orchestrated by former allies – otherwise the sudden love of a unanimous pacifism/”non-intervention” in all the Arab Spring countries, involving leaving these ancien regimes to pursue their repressions unhindered would be considered highly conspicuous) then the ideal choice would be a geopolitically marginal, oil-rich country. Nonetheless, regardless of one’s position on the question of intervention or the reality of Western interests (this cynicism is fueled by historical experience and the experiences of the other Arab Spring countries), these nonetheless coincided with the interests of the Libyan uprising. Today the country of course is far from stable and violence has continued, however this is unfortunately the expected consequence of state collapse. For those who believe that the lengthy remaining of a genocidal dictator is a better option than the victory of the revolution against him they need only look at Syria (this is not necessarily an argument for Western intervention, which should be obsolete if there was regional and Muslim support and solidarity with the uprisings). This February tens of thousands of Libyans lined the streets in celebration of the revolution’s anniversary, despite all the troubles, and it is the duty of Libyans to manage this post-conflict transition not anyone else.

Conclusion: Record of US supporting revolutionary democracy (popular rule) when Arab masses demanded it: 1/7 (Libya)

Distinction: Support for “surface regimes” – including above water; and support for “deep states” – below water

– Record of US supporting only one side of protests (including such features as no demand for surface regime resignation, uninterrupted material support to counter-revolutionary forces, etc.): Iraq, Bahrain, Tunisia

  • Straight forward (nominal + substantive) support for counter-revolution (on surface as well as deep level)

– Record of US (directly and indirectly) supporting “both sides” (also counter-revolutionary, but may include such features as demand for surface regime resignations, whilst maintaining support for deep states; temporary cutting of support for deep states; simultaneous support for state and anti-state forces, etc.): Egypt, Yemen, Syria

  • Support for counter-revolution (substantive) through deep states



Iraqi militia graffiti on Syrian town


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