Iraqi Civil War in 2014-2017
Basic Description of the Civil War and the State
Prerequisites for the Civil War
Relationship to International Relations Theories
Impact on International Security
Impact on the US National Security
Implications for the Future
Modern armed conflicts in fragile and failed states have dangerous consequences not only for the internal order of these countries but also for security in the world due to a potential threat of a large-scale war. At the beginning of the 21st century, in many regions, local conflicts were identified, and some of them lasted for years. A political situation in the Middle East has remained tense long, and as an object of analysis, the state of Iraq will be analyzed in the context of the civil war and its implications on the US and world security. Despite the formal conclusion of the conflict, its consequences are significant, and numerous casualties among the population prove the magnitude of the tragedy. In this paper, the prerequisites of the Iraqi civil war will be examined, a historical background that led to the outbreak of hostilities, relationship to theories of international relations, as well as implications for the future. The results of this conflict prove that local hostilities can have serious consequences not only for one region but for the whole world if the situation is complicated by religious, geopolitical, and other contexts.
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Basic Description of the Civil War and the State
For most of the 21st century, Iraq is involved in constant hostilities. The civil war of 2014-2017 that divided the country into militant camps and caused numerous casualties was the result of prolonged political, religious, ethical, and other disagreements that arose in this region of the Middle East. According to Li, Liu, Jendryke, Li, and Wu (2018, 858), northern Iraq was in the worst decline due to this protracted conflict that caused approximately 60,000 deaths and left more than three million local residents without housing. The regime of power in the country was the subject of controversy between the current government and the extremist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and this confrontation lasted almost four years. As a result, despite the superior resources of the government army, ISIS forces exerted considerable pressure and committed terrorist acts in order to seize power in the country and promote the ideas of religious extremism.
A large-scale civil war began with the active attacks of ISIS members. As Li, Liu, Jendryke, Li, and Wu (2018, 858) point out, within a few days, the militants of this extremist organization took control of the large city of Fallujah in western Iraq. In response, the authorities began counter-operations that resulted in fierce battles. The goal of ISIS was to create a Sunni Islamic state in the neighboring territories of Syria and Iraq living under the Sharia law. At the same time, jihadists in Iraq solved the problem of creating border corridors that might make it possible to supply anti-government armed groups in Syria. The militants needed a rear structure that would provide them with weapons, ammunition, fuel, food, and medicine. Taking control of the western regions of Iraq allowed them to realize their goals and achieve dominance not only in this region but also other territories of the state. In the north of the country, the fiercest battles took place, which led to numerous losses on both sides.
In Iraq, as a fragile state, numerous social problems were complicated by religious contradictions, which ultimately led to a civil war. The withdrawal of US troops did not entail peace in the country, and as Li, Liu, Jendryke, Li, and Wu (2018, 859) argue, this Asian region remained dangerous not only for local residents but also for foreign journalists and representatives of peacekeeping forces. As a result, the split of the state marked the final idea of religious strife since, in Iraq, supporters of radical Islam were a basic aggressive force. Therefore, the propagation of extremist values and their rejection were the key factors in military operations and fierce confrontations during the Iraqi civil war of 2014-2017.
Prerequisites for the Civil War
Since Iraq may be described as a fragile state, security problems have always been relevant in the country. In addition, the incompetence of the political leadership, as O’Driscoll (2017, 315) states, is one of the reasons that led to the aggravation of the nationalist movement in the region and the confrontation between extremists and government forces. Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of that time, did everything possible to complicate relations with opposition-minded Kurds and Sunnis, and some of his decisions, in particular, attempts to stop the separatists from moving towards autonomy, became prerequisites for the war (O’Driscoll 2017, 316). As a result, dissatisfied with restrictions on freedom and the choice of development path, many members of the extremist movement took up arms against the current government led by Maliki and formed powerful and well-trained units that proved their fighting potential in Syria. Thus, the political and religious aspects of the outbreak of the civil war in Iraq are the most significant and obvious.
Another prerequisite for the war under consideration was a tense situation in the region after the withdrawal of American troops. For more than eight years, the US Army was located in Iraq, and one day after the last groups of soldiers left the state, an arrest warrant for the country’s vice president was received, which allegedly supported the idea of Sunni autonomy (O’Driscoll 2017, 321). The presence of American troops held back the local government and did not allow a large-scale civil war to be launched by controlling the supply of weapons and thwarting any attempts of opposition forces to establish power in certain regions. Confidence in the success of the operation to expand the influence of ISIS was reinforced by the absence of the US military in Iraq. Therefore, all further actions took place in a regime of quick attacks with the goals of seizuring the state territories and establishing a radical power regime.
Geopolitical motives were also important prerequisites for the Iraqi civil war. According to O’Driscoll (2017, 324), regional autonomy that a successfully implemented military conflict could provide to radical Kurds and Shiites allowed them to protect their ideas and strengthen their rights by law. The creation of an integrated territorial unit under the auspices of ISIS was a significant goal in view of both political and other opportunities that the perspective of dividing the country opened up for extremists. The Iraqi government’s unpreparedness for such an outcome was an additional factor exacerbating the situation in the state. Thus, the political, religious, and geopolitical prerequisites were most obvious in the military conflict in question.
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From a historical perspective, a tense situation in Iraq may be assessed as the outcome of several confrontations, including both religious aspects and political contradictions. Jüde (2017, 855) analyzes the topic of conflict in this region and notes that the struggle for power has always been a problem in the context of state governance. The author notes the unwillingness of the two main parties (the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) to accept the positions and principles of each other’s development programs, which was the reason for insoluble disagreements (Jüde 2017, 855). At the same time, even despite temporary agreements and attempts to smooth sharp corners, for instance, a ceasefire after the civil war ended in 1998 or an opposition to the introduction of American troops in 2003, disagreements between the parties continued (Jüde 2017, 855). This political aspect is an obvious driver of the aggravation of the situation in Iraq, which can be estimated from a historical perspective.
A historical confrontation between the ruling elites is protracted and has taken place for decades. According to Jüde (2017, 855), the ideological differences of the parties in Iraqi Kurdistan not only caused the civil war of 1994-1998 but also entailed significant geopolitical changes in the redistribution of territories and customs revenues. At the same time, the author notes that this confrontation had a favorable effect on Iraqi statehood since the party system of power organization made it possible to create a coordinated and competitive environment with clearly defined political courses (Jüde 2017, 848). Nevertheless, the radical nature of the measures that individual representatives of the ruling elites saw as potential solutions to the existing problems was one of the essential drivers of conflict in Iraq, including the civil war of 2014-2017.
The revitalization of ISIS was the result of the formation of radical sentiments expressed in extremists’ geopolitical and religious interests. According to O’Driscoll (2017, 317), federalism policies promoted by the Iraqi government before the outbreak of the civil war were condemned by militant Kurds and Shiites, who had sought autonomy and ownership of a separate territory for many years. Since the 1970s, when the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan movement had the greatest power, radical Islamists have promoted the idea of independence and isolation (Jüde 2017, 855). However, they were not able to achieve the desired results, and the withdrawal of American troops from the country weakened by local conflicts became a fertile ground for inciting a civil war. Thus, from a historical perspective, the military operations under consideration in Iraq are the logical result of many years of schism and confrontations.
Relationship to International Relations Theories
Examples of various contemporary theories of international relations are often conditional and not able to exhaust the variety of views and methodological approaches to the analysis of geopolitical interaction among countries and within individual regions. The synthesis of specific approaches, which is explained by shifts in the interests and prerequisites for the behavior of stakeholders, allows formulating complex and multifaceted methods of evaluating particular factors, the outcome of political interaction, and its implication. As Jackson, Sørensen, and (2019, 80) note, today, the concept of political realism is one of the common theories that explain the nature of moral responsibility and security measures applied to global communication. In the context of the civil war in Iraq and its consequences, this approach may be supplemented by the general theory of International Relations that implies assessing political decision-making based on the specific interests of the warring parties.
For the Iraqi civil war as an event that developed against the backdrop of geopolitical and religious differences within the country, it is essential to take into account the specific context of the confrontation. In this case, as Černy (2017, 8) argues, “the divide between explanatory and constitutive theory within the field of International Relations theory” is an aspect that affects the possible explanation of the premises and consequences of such a conflict. In particular, the actions of the nationalist party of Iraq, which promoted the idea of separatism and dominance as a key ruling force, did not comply with the constitutional order of power distribution and could not be explained from the perspective of participation in a political struggle. At the same time, in the context of the practice of international relations, independence movements are a natural phenomenon. Therefore, when assessing the Iraqi internal conflict of 2014-2017, it is crucial to consider not only the ways of implementing ideas but also the ultimate goals.
The Iraqi civil war may be analyzed with regard to the theory of international relations only from the general position of the inadmissibility of using aggression. In a deeper sense, the radicalization of the political course promoted by Islamic extremists does not fit into the classical concept that explains the behavior of participants in separatist movements. Černy (2017, xii) notes “the various forms of Kurdish identity,” which explains specific approaches to implementing the ideas and goals of the separation of positions in Iraq. As a result, in the context of international relations and theories included in this spectrum, the civil war in question can be assessed as the result of a complex and unique interaction on a specific territory for a long time due to a number of geopolitical and religious differences.
Impact on International Security
In the context of the implications of the Iraqi civil war on international security, the threat of terrorism is seen as a key danger. Pokalova (2019, 815) analyzes the manifestations of this conflict and notes the concern of the UN General Council regarding the manifestations of extremism in different world regions in which ISIS supporters conduct their criminal activities. The author gives examples of terrorist acts in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, and other large cities and notes that they all occurred during the height of the civil war in Iraq (Pokalova 2019, 815). These threats are the reasons for developing the necessary security measures and applying effective strategies for protecting against terrorist threats not only in the Middle East region but throughout the world.
In the context of the global problem, the civil war in Iraq was dangerous not only due to an increased threat of terrorist acts but also engaging foreign followers. According to Pokalova (2019, 816), the time of the Iraq conflict fell on the era of technological development, which, in turn, entailed the promotion of a strategy for recruiting ISIS members via Internet communication. This practice complicated the work of international security agencies significantly because tracking the activity of militants in the virtual space required involving a large number of interested parties and conducting painstaking intelligence work. However, even periodic success in identifying individual recruitment channels could not guarantee the termination of terrorists’ online communication. As a result, the threat of involving foreign ISIS supporters as an additional force supporting radical extremists in Iraq was acute.
Finally, as an impact on international security, the danger of engaging youth is one of the potentially negative outcomes. Pokalova (2019, 816) notes this threat and provides relevant statistics: according to the official findings, “the average age of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq is 24 years old, and almost two-thirds of them are in their mid-20s.” This factor complicates an opportunity to counter Islamic extremism because the population of this age group are active Internet users and are well aware of the existing methods of covert interaction. Even if local intelligence agencies take appropriate security measures and track suspicious activities, terrorists can devise new ways to maintain interaction with one another. This communication network is one of the most significant threats to international security.
Impact on the US National Security
For the United States as a country that has been directly involved in maintaining peace in Iraq, the threats posed by the consequences of the civil war in question are similar to those on a global scale. According to Mitchell (2018, 64), the US government’s policy of maintaining diplomatic relations in resolving local conflicts that could threaten global stability is a natural step in a civilized society. However, such involvement is fraught with extremists’ aggression against the country that was directly engaged in destroying the idea of promoting a radical Islamic strategy and eliminating the most dangerous war criminals. Despite the remoteness of the United States from Iraq, a communication and data exchange system may allow terrorists to realize revenge plans that, as a rule, imply organizing terrorist attacks on civilians. This outcome cannot be allowed; therefore, the activity of the US government in relation to its foreign policy is one of the priority areas.
The US open stance on countering Islamic extremism is one of the factors that could pose a threat to the country’s national security. As Mitchell (2018, 65) states, one of the strategies that the US government should adhere to in accordance with the democratic principles of international relations is to avoid giving preferences to a particular political party or group. However, in the context of a clear extremist danger, eliminating the consequences of the activities of ISIS is a mandatory practice that the US security forces have to implement as part of a program to protect civilians. The help of allies distributes obligations among peacekeepers and allows preventing threats together. Nevertheless, for the United States as the leader of the liberation movement in Iraq, the negotiation practice is an important aspect of foreign policy because, according to Mitchell (2018, 65), only this practice can contribute to American security. Otherwise, harsh extremists’ measures can be aimed at hitting the western opponent.
Extremely negative consequences for the US national security may be the result of such a confrontation. Mitchell (2018, 71) mentions such a term as “intracommunity violence stemming from revenge culture” and notes that this phenomenon is relevant in the context of significant social and political differences between Iraq and the United States. As a result, in order to avoid terrorist acts, the killing of American residents, and attacks on western military bases, the practice of careful negotiations is more appropriate than that of open hostilities. Thus, the threat to the US security will be acute if the country’s government promotes an aggressive course to eliminate terrorism as a movement in the Middle East.
Implications for the Future
Despite the fact that the result of the Iraqi civil war was the victory of government forces and the liberation of the country from ISIS, extremists switched to guerrilla warfare and did not abandon their goals. This means that one cannot talk about a complete victory over terrorists since periodic armed conflicts occur. As Costantini and O’Driscoll (2019, 11) argue, the formal superiority of the Iraqi national army further aggravated the contradictions between ethnic and Sunni Arabs, which may lead to a new war in the future. In addition, on the part of terrorists, there was no recognition of defeat, which also indicates their unwillingness to betray the original plan to seize control of this geographical region. Therefore, in case of the aggravation of the situation, a new confrontation may lead Iraq to another armed opposition.
Another potential implication is the split of the state into separate territories with a clear problem of emigration. Costantini and O’Driscoll (2019, 2) note that for any country, a civil war is a dangerous phenomenon due to its negative impact on administrative integrity. In the context of Iraq, in the international arena, the state has lost its position significantly, which complicates not only the political but also the economic, social, and other sectors of life. In case the government and other interested parties do not take active steps to restore stability in Iraq, the problem of emigration will become even more acute since people will seek refuge in more developed regions. Therefore, a humanitarian catastrophe caused by active hostilities and destruction in the country is a potential outcome of the current situation in the state.
When considering potential negative implications, local conflicts in Iraq could escalate into a global confrontation involving more countries. The threat of ISIS as one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations is regularly discussed in the international arena. In case of open aggression towards other countries, extremists can enter into open conflicts not only with the US military but also with the armies of different world regions that have experienced the attacks of this criminal group. As Costantini and O’Driscoll (2019, 15) argue, nationalism in the Middle East is a threat not only to this territory but to the world as a whole because of the inability to control terrorists’ activities comprehensively. Therefore, despite the official end of the civil war, it is too early to sum up its results.
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The example of the Iraqi civil war of 2014-2017 proves that the geopolitical, religious, and some other contexts of the confrontation pose a severe threat not only to a single region but to the whole world. The historical background of the disagreement was the result of the terrorist activities of ISIS. The problem cannot be considered in the framework of one concept of international relations due to a synthesis of challenges. The implications for both international and American security may be significant since extremists continue carrying out guerrilla warfare. The consequences for the future can be dangerous due to constant terrorist acts that take place in different countries and the dissatisfaction of the radical side of the Iraq war with its results. Negotiation policies may be more justified than aggressive measures in view of the threat of unleashing global military operations.
Černy, Hannes. 2017. Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK and International Relations: Theory and Ethnic Conflict. New York: Routledge.
Costantini, Irene, and Dylan O’Driscoll. 2019. “Practices of Exclusion, Narratives of Inclusion: Violence, Population Movements and Identity Politics in Post-2014 Northern Iraq.” Ethnicities: 1-20.
Jackson, Richard, Georg Sørensen, and Jørgen Møller. 2019. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jüde, Johannes. 2017. “Contesting Borders? The Formation of Iraqi Kurdistan’s De Facto State.” International Affairs 93: 847-63.
Li, Xi, Shanshan Liu, Michael Jendryke, Deren Li, and Chuanqing Wu. 2018. “Night-Time Light Dynamics During the Iraqi Civil War.” Remote Sensing 10, no. 6 (May): 858-76.
Mitchell, Stefanie. 2018. “Exploring United States Involvement in Post-ISIL Iraq.” Editorial Welcome 3: 59-86.
O’Driscoll, Dylan. 2017. “Autonomy Impaired: Centralisation, Authoritarianism and the Failing Iraqi State.” Ethnopolitics 16: 315-32.
Pokalova, Elena. 2019. “Driving Factors Behind Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 42: 798-818.