At one point, it seemed like it was beginning to fade from our memory. It was becoming "ancient history". And with so much to worry about at home, why must we think about it again?
But now, Iraq is back in the news. Isis (or "Islamic State") is on the move in Northern Iraq, and it may now have sights on Syria and Turkey as well. And now, fears are growing of a possible genocide in the region.
The US is moving back towards military engagement in Iraq. But before we debate what we should do there next, we must remember how we fell into this hot mess in the first place.
In October 2002, Congress voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq to combat the alleged stockpiling of "weapons of mass destruction" by then Iraqi Prime Minister Saddam Hussein. Before the vote, the Bush Administration made claims that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the September 11, 2001, (9/11) terrorist attack. There was never a formal declaration of war when the US led invasion began in March 2003. And after the invasion, it became painfully clear that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" prepared to be used against us... And that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.
After the invasion began, the Iraq War transformed from an allegedly "anti-terrorist operation" into some "armed humanitarian liberation of the Iraqi people". All of a sudden, our armed forces were in Iraq to initiate "regime change" and essentially force "democracy" at gunpoint. The neoconservatives who were advising then President George W. Bush on foreign policy were praising "freedom fighters" like Ahmad Chalabi and urging the US to expand our military presence into Iran, Syria, and elsewhere so we can spread "democracy" all over the Middle East. What was supposed to be a fast & easy "shock & awe" war to disarm terrorists was suddenly becoming a grandiose attempt to set up an American Empire halfway across the world.
Ironically, this war that was supposed to "disarm terrorists" actually succeeded... In arming terrorists. al-Qaeda never had a presence in Iraq before March 20, 2003. But after the US led "coalition of the willing" toppled Saddam Hussein's regime from power, an enormous power vacuum emerged. And by mid 2004, "al-Qaeda in Iraq" was wreaking havoc in the "Triangle of Death" around Baghdad.
US forces only succeeded in wresting control of the Baghdad exurbs from "al-Qaeda in Iraq" by arming Sunni militias who had grown uncomfortable with their continued presence in the region while providing "The Surge" of additional US soldiers into Iraq. But even then, "al-Qaeda in Iraq" was never fully eradicated. It only went dormant (until the inevitable "rebranding" that we'll get to in a moment).
What was supposed to be a "liberation of the Iraqi people" quickly devolved into a complete organizational clusterfuck as the US occupation of Iraq dragged on. Alleged "Iraqi Messiah" Ahmad Chalabi ran to Iran whenever they had money for him and became a nagging destabilizing force in the region. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that took over after the end of Saddam's reign quickly emerged as a Keystone Kops style money laundering scheme. And the Shia led political bloc that ultimately took the keys from the CPA never seemed to unite the nation behind its government.
By 2011, what had previously been known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq" "rebranded" itself as Isis. And when Isis decided to disobey al-Qaeda Central's orders to limit civilian deaths when it jumped into Syria's civil war, the 2 terrorist networks divorced this past February. But now that Iraq's government is as unstable as ever, President Obama faces tough choices on how to prevent a horrid genecidal bloodbath in the region.
Oh, and so does Congress. But already, many of the same neoconservatives who misled the nation into the Iraq War in 2002 want to criticize just about anything & everything President Obama decides to do now. Some of the current G-O-TEA hotheads on Capitol Hill even want to return US ground troops to Iraq and revive the US occupation. And to make matters even more bizarre, some Democrats (who happen to be the same ones who voted for military force authorization in 2002) are harping about the Obama Administration's caution in arming rebels, even as many of the rebels the neoconservatives have wanted to support actually have ties to Isis.
As we ponder what to do next about Iraq, it's critical for us to remember the history of this war. It's crucial for us to remember the many painful errors and brutal blunders made in the 12 years so that we don't repeat them. And as Members of Congress decide what parameters to set on this latest mission into Iraq, they must remember their Constitutional duty and their precedecessors' big mistake.