As the United States calls for a global response to the Islamic State (IS) threat plaguing parts of Iraq and Syria one finds oneself pondering if we’re witnessing another pivotal moment in Iraq’s history and what will ultimately come of it.
Main staircase of the Ziggurat
Of course it is unwise to try and define and sum-up the moment in time one is living in historically. Many commentators and journalists made this mistake back in 2011 throughout the course of the Arab Spring when they expressed quite a lot of optimism about the future of Middle Eastern nations undergoing revolutionary tumults. Similarly it would be unwise to try and characterize and define the present crisis Iraq is facing historically until we can retrospectively evaluate its long term affects on Iraq and the wider region.
Nevertheless by evaluating the history of past hinge moments and years in Iraqi history it is reasonable to speculate where the present IS threat will ultimately take Iraq. Whether or not it will serve to cripple already quite tenuous cross-denominational ties, result in a partition brought about by a Kurdish declaration of independence or see to the society as a whole pull together and act upon the recognition that noninclusive and heavy-handed governance are at least a small part of the reason IS have made the gains they have had through their exploitation of discontentment and, as was the case in Anbar, disgruntled and unstable Sunni communities.
When evaluating Iraq’s modern post-Second World War history I would contend that the important ‘pivotal’ moments would be the following,
King Faisel II of Iraq
• The 1956 coup which brought to an end the monarchy and with it the Kingdom of Iraq.
• The 1968 Baathist coup which resulted from the political instability and upheaval in Arab countries which followed Egypt and Syria’s June 1967 defeat by the Israelis. Furthermore this coincided with the decline of the pan-Arabism promulgated by Egypt’s Nasser and with it a vacuum of sorts politically in the region. The Iraqi Baath vied earnestly to fill that vacuum.
• The 1979 purge of the Baath leadership by Saddam Hussein who of course saw himself as the “new Nasser” of the region. That purge along with his attack on Iran in September 1980 which initiated the Iran-Iraq War which didn’t end until 1988 with at least a million left dead in its wake. That shortly thereafter of course led onto Saddam deciding to seize Kuwait and fight against an enormous American-led military coalition assembled to confront him. The aftermath of that campaign saw Iraq placed under United Nations sanctions until the 2003 intervention which eventually saw to his overthrow.
• And obviously of course the 2003 overthrow of Saddam which saw the end of the Baath’s hold on power in Iraq.
Events beginning in June 2014 will quite likely be seen as an important hinge moment in Iraqi history also. It is after all the beginning of a very important and ongoing test. The one that sees if the new Iraq with all of its flaws is able to nevertheless utilize its democratic and secular societal republican rudiments and beat back the vicious sea of reaction which threatens to swallow it and go on to prosper as a successful multi-ethnic and multi-denominational state.
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