July 22, 2016
I visited Iraq in 1999. At the time, there were no so-called ‘jihadis’ espousing the principles of ‘jihadism’, whatever the interpretation may be. On the outskirts of Baghdad was a military training camp, not for ‘Al-Qaeda’, but for ‘Mojahedin-e-Khalq’, an Iranian militant exile group that worked, with foreign funding and arms, to overthrow the Iranian Republic.
At the time, Saddam Hussein, used the exiled organization to settle scores with his rivals in Tehran, just as they, too, espoused anti-Iraqi government militias to achieve the exact same purpose.
Iraq was hardly peaceful then. But most of the bombs that exploded in that country were American. In fact, when Iraqis spoke of ‘terrorism’, they only referred to ‘Al-Irhab al-Amriki’ – American terrorism.
Suicide bombings were hardly a daily occurrence; in fact, never an occurrence at all, anywhere in Iraq. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, all hell broke loose.
The 25 years prior to 2008 witnessed 1,840 suicide attacks, according to data compiled by US government experts and cited in the ‘Washington Post’. Of all these attacks, 86 percent occurred post-US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, between 2001 and the publishing of the data in 2008, 920 suicide bombings took place in Iraq and 260 in Afghanistan.
A fuller picture emerged in 2010, with the publishing of more commanding and detailed research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism.
“More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation,” it emerged.
“As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq … total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically – from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009,” wrote Robert Pape in Foreign Policy.
Tellingly, it was also concluded that “over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.”
When I visited Iraq in 1999, ‘Al-Qaeda’ was merely a name on the Iraqi TV news, referring to a group of militants that operated mostly in Afghanistan.
It was years after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1988, that ‘Al-Qaeda’ became a global phenomenon. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US’ misguided responses – invading and destroying countries – created the very haven that have espoused today’s militancy and terror.
In no time, following the US invasion of Iraq, ‘Al-Qaeda’ extended its dark shadows over a country that was already overwhelmed with a death toll that surpassed hundreds of thousands.
It is hardly difficult to follow the thread of Isis’ formation, the deadliest of all such groups that mostly originated from ‘Al-Qaeda’ in Iraq, itself wrought by the US invasion.
It was born from the unity of various militants groups in October 2006, when ‘Al-Qaeda’ in Mesopotamia joined ranks with ‘Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq’, ‘Jund al-Sahhaba’ and the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (ISI).
Isis, or ‘Daesh’ has been in existence since then, in various forms and capacities, but only jumped to the scene as a horrifically violent organization with territorial ambitions when a Syrian uprising turned into a deadly platform for regional rivalries.
It is easy – perhaps, convenient – to forget all of this. For many western commentators and politicians it is much easier – let alone safer – to discuss Isis within impractical contexts, for example, Islam, than to take moral responsibility.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘From Nice to the Middle East: the Only Way to Challenge ISIS’.