Mar. 1, 2013 by Darius
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq with lofty intentions: toppling a threatening dictator and establishing democracy in a country that had never known it. Yesterday, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I heard former US Ambassador Edward Gnehm discuss what turned such a promising premise into “chaos, insecurity, and economic collapse.” Specifically, Ambassador Gnehm talked about two major unintended consequences of the Iraq invasion.
The first unintended consequence has to do with sectarian splits. For all of its history as a nation, Iraq has been ruled by Sunni Muslims. Sunnis, though, are a minority. Iraq actually has a Shi’ite Muslim majority. In fact, Iraq contains the four holiest sites unique to Shi’ism. After the US invasion, the US wanted to implement democracy, implicit in which is majority rule. With this new democracy, Shi’ites, representing a majority of Iraqis, have not surprisingly come to dominate the government. This has left Iraq’s Sunni population, which believes itself entitled to rule the country, embittered and has sent Iraq’s neighbors into contortions. Iran, on Iraq’s eastern border, was a historic enemy of the Iraqi government but with the rise in power of Iraq’s Shi’ite population has seen new opportunity in trying to influence Iraq, since Iran claims to be the protector of all Shi’ites. Saudi Arabia, self-proclaimed protector of Sunnis, is very Shi’ite-phobic, for reasons both religious and geopolitical. Most of the Gulf states align with Saudi Arabia. Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Saudi Arabia (and to a lesser degree the other Gulf States) and Iran, a situation that has been complicated greatly by the ongoing war in Syria, with its embattled Shi’ite regime.
The second unintended consequence was the demonstrated vulnerability of the US military. It had been acknowledged that the US possesses the mightiest military in the world. Iraqi insurgents made clear, though, that there are limitations to US military power. The mighty US military could not bring peace and stability to Iraq, even after a decade of trying. Instead, in Iraq the US military no longer looked “unassailable,” in the words of Amb. Gnehm—the completely wrong message to send to both America’s regional enemies and allies.