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Trauma Bearing Upon The Levant In Recent Times
While the Middle East has been ravaged by war and insurgency for decades, it can be useful in understanding the challenges and opportunities facing the Levant lands to consider key conflicts which have occurred in the region since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New-York by members of al-Qaeda.
2003 invasion of Iraq
The invasion consisted of 21 days of major combat operations, in which a combined force of 160,000 troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba’athist government of Saddam Hussein.
According to U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition mission was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.
In a January 2003 CBS poll, 64% of Americans had approved of military action against Iraq; however, 63% wanted Bush to find a diplomatic solution rather than go to war, and 62% believed the threat of terrorism directed against the U.S. would increase due to war. The invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by some long-standing U.S. allies, including the governments of France, Germany, and New Zealand. Their leaders argued that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that invading the country was not justified in the context of United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC’s) 12 February 2003 report that never found any operative weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Massive looting took place in the days following the 2003 invasion including National Museum of Iraq and Archaological site were damaged.
Media played a significant role during the invasion.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an interview with the BBC in September 2004, “From our point of view and from the Charter point of view [the war] was illegal.
Besides arguing that Iraq was not the top strategic priority in the war on terrorism or in the Middle East, critics of the war also suggested that it could potentially destabilize the surrounding region.
In an October 2015 CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for his ‘mistakes’ over Iraq War and admitted there were ‘elements of truth’ to the view that the invasion helped promote the rise of ISIS.
Iraqi insurgency (2003–06)
The Iraqi insurgency of May 2003–February 2006 began following the completion of the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s rule in May 2003. The armed insurgent opposition to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq and the post-2003 Iraqi government lasted until early 2006, when it deteriorated into the Iraqi Civil War, the most violent phase of the Iraq War.
A number of factors played into the initial birth of the insurgency in Iraq. Invading U.S-led forces were unable to immediately fill the power vacuum caused by the sudden collapse of a highly centralized state authority, resulting in weeks of virtual anarchy. The rampant looting during this time period, and the inability of U.S-led forces to control the situation, led to Iraqi resentment. Additionally, the unexpectedly quick implosion of Saddam Hussein’s regime meant that the invading forces never engaged and decisively defeated his army in any major battle; the Iraqi army forces simply melted away, often with their weapons, back to their homes.
Another cause of resentment was the lack of immediate humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts for Iraqis suffering from the invasion, the long-term effects of the repression and mismanagement of the Saddam Hussein regime, and international sanctions. A number of factions felt suspicious of long-term American intentions; the conduct of some American soldiers also served to heighten tensions.
The de-Ba’athification Commission set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the nature of selection of the Governing Council, and other policy decisions were interpreted by Sunni Arabs as actions intended to single out their community for discrimination; this encouraged the beginnings of sectarian tensions.
Members of insurgent groups came from a variety of sources. Former members of the security services of the Ba’ath regime, former military officers, and some other Ba’ath Party members are cited as members of insurgent groups; indeed, these elements formed the primary backbone of the nascent insurgency. Initially, most former members of the Ba’ath Party and former Iraqi soldiers expressed a willingness to compromise with the Coalition forces. However, many lost their jobs and pensions with the disbanding of the Iraqi army by Bremer; this, and the unwillingness of the Coalition Provisional Authority to negotiate with former Ba’ath elements, provided impetus for the initial insurgency. Prisoners let out of prison by Saddam Hussein before his disappearance provided another source both of insurgent recruits and of organized crime factions
Israel’s War on Lebanon
On July 2006 Israel launched its war against Lebanon lasting for 34 days, in an attempt to destroy the forces of Hezbollah.
Israelis bombed Lebanese towns, villages and infrastructure causing huge destruction, but made little headway in ground operations. The war ended inconclusively but with Hezbollah largely intact.
The war resulted in thousands being killed or injured, and displaced approximately one million Lebanese and half a million Israelis. Some consider this war as the first round of the Iran–Israel proxy conflict, rather than a continuation of the Arab–Israeli conflict.
This came after the civil war in Lebanon lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 250,000 fatalities.
Sectarian violence in Iraq (2006–07)
Following the U.S.-launched 2003 invasion of Iraq, intercommunal violence between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions became prevalent. In February 2006, the Sunni organization Al-Qaeda in Iraq bombed one of the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam – the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra. This set off a wave of Shi’a reprisals against Sunnis followed by Sunni counterattacks. The conflict escalated over the next several months until by 2007. In 2008 and 2009, during the Sunni Awakening and the surge, violence declined dramatically. However, low-level strife continued to plague Iraq until the U.S. withdrawal in late 2011.
Two polls of Americans conducted in 2006 found that between 65% to 85% believed Iraq was in a civil war; however, a similar poll of Iraqis conducted in 2007 found that 61% did not believe that they were in a civil war.
In October 2006, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Iraqi government estimated that more than 370,000 Iraqis had been displaced since the 2006 bombing of the al-Askari Mosque, bringing the total number of Iraqi refugees to more than 1.6 million. By 2008, the UNHCR raised the estimate of refugees to a total of about 4.7 million (~16% of the population). The number of refugees estimated abroad was 2 million (a number close to CIA projections and the number of internally displaced people was 2.7 million. The estimated number of orphans across Iraq has ranged from 400,000 (according to the Baghdad Provincial Council), to five million (according to Iraq’s anti-corruption board). A UN report from 2008 placed the number of orphans at about 870,000. The Red Cross stated in 2008 that Iraq’s humanitarian situation was among the most critical in the world, with millions of Iraqis forced to rely on insufficient and poor-quality water sources.
Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq
The withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq began in December 2007 with the end of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and was completed by December 2011, bringing an end to the Iraq War. The number of U.S. military forces in Iraq peaked at 170,300 in November 2007.
As the war progressed from its initial invasion phase in 2003 to a nearly decade-long occupation, American public opinion shifted towards favouring a troop withdrawal; in May 2007, 55% of Americans believed that the Iraq War was a mistake, and 51% of registered voters favoured troop withdrawal.
Iraqi insurgency (2011–13)
The Iraq Crisis, escalated after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011, resulting in violent conflict with the central government, as well as sectarian violence among Iraq’s religious groups.
The insurgency was a direct continuation following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the U.S. military’s withdrawal, the level of violence rose as Sunni militant groups stepped up attacks targeting the country’s majority Shia population to undermine confidence in the Shia-led government and its efforts to protect people without American backup.
Armed groups inside Iraq were increasingly galvanized by the Syrian Civil War, with which it merged in 2014. Many Sunni factions stood against the Syrian government, which Shia groups moved to support, and numerous members of both sects also crossed the border to fight in Syria.
In 2014, the insurgency escalated dramatically following the conquest of Mosul and major areas in northern Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), thereby merging the new conflict with the Syrian Civil War, into a new, far deadlier conflict.
Iraqi Civil War (2014–present)
The Iraqi Civil War is an ongoing armed conflict in the Middle East.
In 2014, the Iraqi insurgency escalated into a civil war with the conquest of Fallujah and Mosul and major areas in northern Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). This has resulted in the forced resignation of the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, airstrikes by the United States, Iran, Syria, and at least a dozen other countries, the participation of Iranian troops and military aid provided to Iraq by Russia.
Egyptian crisis (2011–14)
The Egyptian crisis began with the Egyptian revolution of 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in an ideologically and socially diverse mass protest movement that ultimately forced long standing president Hosni Mubarak from office. A protracted political crisis ensued, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces taking control of the country until a series of popular elections brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. However, disputes between elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and secularists continued until the anti-government protests in June 2013 that lead to the overthrow of Morsi in 2013, in what has been described as an ending to the second revolution. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who announced the overthrow of Morsi, then became the leader of Egypt the following year, winning election to the presidency in a landslide victory. Sisi’s election was widely recognized, and the political situation has largely stabilized since he officially took power; however, some protests have continued despite a government crackdown. The crisis has also spawned an ongoing insurgency led by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis in the Sinai Peninsula, which became increasingly intertwined with the regional conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant later in 2014.
The Sinai insurgency is the conflict ignited by Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, which began after the start of the Egyptian Crisis, which saw the overthrow of long standing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
Sinai insurgency consisted of militants, largely composed of local Bedouin tribesmen, who exploited the chaotic situation in Egypt and weakened central authority to launch a series of attacks on government forces in Sinai.
Egypt launched two military operations, known as Operation Eagle in mid-2011 and then Operation Sinai in mid-2012. In May 2013, following an abduction of Egyptian officers, violence in the Sinai surged once again.
Following the 2013 Egyptian second revolution, which resulted in the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, “unprecedented clashes” have occurred.
In 2014, elements of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group claimed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and proclaimed themselves as the Sinai Province. Militant attacks continued into 2015. Security officials say militants based in Libya have established ties with Sinai Province.
The fallout suffered by the locals as a result of the insurgency in Sinai ranges from militant operations and the state of insecurity to extensive military operations and the demolishing of hundreds of homes and evacuating thousands of residents as Egyptian troops pressed on to build a buffer zone meant to halt the smuggling of weapons and militants from and to the Gaza strip.
The Syrian war
The Syrian Civil War grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict.
The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian Government and its various supporters, a loose alliance of rebel groups (including the so called Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the rebel groups, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The factions receive substantial support from foreign actors, leading many to label the conflict a proxy war waged by both regional and global powers.
Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria, as al-Nusra Front and ISIL.
In the north, Syrian government forces largely withdrew to fight the FSA, allowing the Kurdish YPG to move in.
In 2015 the YPG joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and some Turkmen groups, forming the Syrian Democratic Forces, while most Turkmen groups remained with the FSA.
The conflict has caused a refugee crisis. On 1 February 2016, a formal start of the mediated Geneva Syria peace talks was announced by the United Nations but fighting continues.
ISIS/ISIL rises in Iraq and Syria
ISIL (the name currently being used by the group known previously as ISIS) originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.
The terrorist group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate, and began referring to itself as Islamic State or IS in June 2014. As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.
The fanatic group attracted thousands of supporters from all over the world to fight with it, especially in Syria and Iraq; although 90% of ISIL’s fighters in Iraq are Iraqis, and 70% of its fighters in Syria are Syrian.
By December 2015, the Islamic State covered a vast landlocked territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, with a population estimate of 2.8–8 million people, where it enforces its interpretation of sharia law.
After considering IS the greatest threat to world security, and in response to rapid territorial gains made by IS, an International Coalition was formed in 2014, led by the Unites States, and began a campaign of airstrikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
In September 2015, Russian Forces began an extensive wave of raids against IS and Al Nusra in Syria.