It was nothing unexpected that the main Bedouin country on Joe Biden’s must-call list was Iraq, an express whose fate has been weaved with America’s for thirty years. The circumstance of the call, in any case, was intriguing. The US president called Iraqi Head administrator Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on February 23, the night before the 30th commemoration of the US-drove alliance ground attack that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, yet in the process set off a chain of occasions from which Iraq has still not recuperated. Subsequent to thinking about the course of occasions from that point forward, there is clearly a contention to be made for America to reevaluate its job in the Center East.
Saddam Hussein’s franticness had required Iraq’s future to be postponed, where it remains today, and brought America into an entanglement that holds it still. The Main Inlet War, which finished 30 years prior, was probably the most brief clash ever. Saddam attacked Kuwait on August 2, 1990. The US, which at the time was vigorously reliant on Bay oil, united an alliance of countries and over the course of the following not many months developed a tremendous armed force on Saudi Arabia’s boundary. This was Desert Shield, the activity to protect the realm. On January 17, 1991 it became Desert Tempest, a 41-day flying effort followed by a ground attack that freed Kuwait and obliterated Saddam’s military in only four days. In any case, on February 28, 1991, the whole Center East remained at an intersection.
With the remnants of Saddam’s army forced back deep into Iraqi territory and the bodies of thousands of its soldiers scattered across the desert, President George HW Bush had a crucial decision to make. Press on and overthrow Saddam? Or declare “mission accomplished” and pull out his troops?
At the time, option A seemed riskier. Advisors argued that the cost in American lives would be too high, that the US would lose the support of its Arab coalition partners and that whoever replaced Saddam might be just as bad. But, as history tells us, the decision to go with option B lit a fuse. Within a decade, the Americans would be back and this time the cost – to the US, Iraq and the entire region – would be incalculably higher.
America’s return to Iraq in 2003 was the indirect product of another unenviable choice. The decision by King Fahd to allow American troops onto Saudi soil in 1990 was courageous – many argued against it. But the king was adamant – and right; under the circumstances it had to be done.
Among the Saudis who objected, however, was Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, which, with the support of the US, had been fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, where in 1990 he spoke out against the king’s decision to invite Western troops onto the sacred soil.
Al Qaeda’s brief alliance of convenience with America was over. Bin Laden was exiled, his citizenship revoked, and Al Qaeda set its sights on the US. The First Gulf War, in other words, led to the 9/11 attacks, which in turn led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003. Less than two months later, the second President Bush, George W, seemingly having finished the job his father had started, declared mission accomplished. But it wasn’t. Chaos and insurrection followed. It would be eight years before the majority of US troops pulled out. By then 4,500 Americans had been killed, along with tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The chaos of post-war Iraq also served as the breeding ground for ISIS, which by 2015 had seized a large swath of territory extending from Iraq to Syria and perpetrated a series of murderous outrages. And the rise of ISIS had yet another consequence – the opening of a door to further Iranian meddling throughout the region.
In the battles to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Iran found itself briefly on the same side as the Americans. But the proxy militias trained, armed and funded by Tehran are now ambassadors for Iran’s revolutionary message and political influence, especially in Iraq and Syria.
In his call to Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi, Biden focused on the recent spate of rocket attacks in the country, including on the US embassy in Baghdad and a coalition airbase in Erbil, where one contractor was killed on February 15. Within days of the call, Biden authorized a US strike on “multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups.” About 17 fighters were killed.
There is a depressing circularity to all of this.
Thirty years ago, the Gulf states needed American protection against the insanity of Saddam Hussein. Today, the GCC states are more than capable of manning their own barricades and of forming a united front against Iran – or, indeed, of working to come to terms with their neighbor.
Since the end of the Gulf War it has been clear that it is the physical presence of US forces in the region that has been the “recruiting sergeant” for the extremists. If Biden can find the courage to resist the political pressure to act tough, he can do the right thing – for America and for the Middle East.
America has been policing the Center East for a very long time and each move it has made has exacerbated the situation, worse. The “sheriff” necessities to hang up his identification and weapon.
Jonathan Gornall is an English writer, earlier with The Occasions, who has lived and worked in the Center East and is presently situated in the UK.