For the neoconservatives, ground zero in the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS) is the departure of the American occupying forces without a Status of Force Agreement (SOFA). At the behest of President Barack Obama, or so the allegation goes, the American military decamped, in December of 2011, without securing an SOFA. A residual American military force in Iraq was to be the thing that would have safeguarded the peace in Iraq. Broadcaster Mark Levin regularly rails about the SOFA amulet. Most Republicans lambaste Obama for failing to secure the elusive SOFA.
The man, President George W. Bush, did indeed sign a security pact with his satrap, Nuri al-Maliki, much to the dismay of very many Iraqis. Although the agreement was ratified behind the barricades of the Green Zone, journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi “spoke” on behalf of his battered Iraqi brothers and sister: He lobbed a loafer at Bush shouting, “This is a farewell… you dog! This is for the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!”
Saddam Hussein—both dictator and peace maker—had no Status of Force Agreement with the U.S. He did, however, use plenty of force to successfully control his fractious country. Highly attuned to the slightest Islamist rumbling, Saddam squashed these ruthlessly. When the shah of Iran was overthrown by the Khomeini Islamist revolutionaries, the secular Saddam feared the fever of fanaticism would infect Iraq. He thus extinguished any sympathetic Shiite “political activism” and “guerrilla activity” by imprisoning, executing and driving rebels across the border, into Iran. It wasn’t due process, but it wasn’t ISIS. This “principle” was articulated charmingly and ever-so politely to emissaries of another empire, in 1878: “My people will not listen unless they are killed,” explained Zulu King Cetshwayo to the British imperial meddlers, who disapproved of Zulu justice. They nevertheless went ahead and destroyed the mighty Zulu kingdom in the Anglo-Zulu War (1879), exiling its proud king.
Ask any ordinary Iraqi struggling to eke out an existence in what remains of his pulverized homeland, and he’ll tell you: “Keep your Status of Force Agreement. Give us back the Iraq of Saddam Hussein.” True, the Kurds were not in a good place. And Shia madrasahs were regularly shuttered. But some reconstruction was underway. Democratic plans were being drafted (albeit slowly). A “nonaggression pact” and a “cooperation council to promote economic and cultural development” had been established with the Arab neighbors (Kuwait, not so much). Best of all, Iran was on the run.
A 2012 Zogby poll, highlighted by The American Conservative, questioned Iraqis about the impact on their lives of the American invasion. “For the most part, Shia and Sunni Arabs perceive almost every aspect of life to have become worse or not [to have] changed.” And this was in Iraq BI: Before ISIS.
Not long after the “great” American troop surge of 2007, Global Policy Forum questioned Iraqis, too. (This was more than Bush had done when he ordered that BLU-82Bs be dropped on their neighborhoods.) What do you know? With the surge and without an SOFA, Iraq was oh-so violent. By September, Iraqis were still citing a “lack of security and safety in general” as one of their most pressing existential concerns.
The answer to the question, “Who do you blame the most for the violence that is occurring in the country?” placed the U.S. up there with al Qaeda and foreign Jihadis as the root of all evil. Harmony being what it was in Iraq during the halcyon Bush years—Shia blamed Sunni and Sunni blamed Shia for their respective woes.
Guess who, in 1994, had advised against an invasion he went on to orchestrate, in 2003.
… if we had gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world. And if you take down the central government in Iraq, you could easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years. In the north, you’ve got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.
This astute, if utilitarian, analysis was that of Bush’s Vice president, Dick Cheney. The architect of the invasion of 2003 had counseled against it in 1994. The man’s predictions have come to pass.
The Bush SOFA specified a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by Dec. 31, 2011. Despite negotiations thereafter, Iraqis rejected any further infringements on their sovereignty.
In short, it was not the departure from Iraq that guaranteed the rise of ISIS aka ISIL (in Yiddish) alias Daesh (if you want to sound as cool as John Kerry); but the invasion of Iraq.
© 2015 by Ilana Mercer
Read Ilana in German on Junge Freiheit.