Fawaz Gerges is a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of ISIS: A History. From his Q & A with World Policy Journal:
WPJ: While you write that the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was responsible for the initial rupture of Iraqi society, your book emphasizes the failure of al-Maliki to build strong and healthy governance in the years following. What action, if any, do you believe Western powers could have taken a decade ago to help minimize today’s situation with ISIS?--Marshal Zeringue
FG: There is no single cause that really explains the resurgence of ISIS. This is a very important point. Many commentators and journalists really simplify it a great deal. The global jihadist movement existed before the U.S. invasion, and the most important factor in the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq was not only the invasion. It was also the dismantling and destruction of Iraqi institutions. This allowed al-Qaida to infiltrate politics, to plant itself within the local Sunni communities, and to depict itself as a defender of the Sunnis. Besides the U.S. invasion and the destruction of state institutions, the third factor in the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq was the dismal failure of the post-Saddam Hussein political elite in Iraq to mend the ideological and social rift between the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
However, there are two major mistakes made by the U.S. that could have prevented not only the emergence of al-Qaida in Iraq but also the deepening of sectarian tensions.
The first one was the dissolution of the Iraqi army and security forces. In one stroke, the U.S.-led occupation authorities dissolved the army, thus turning three hundred thousand Iraqis into potential rebels. And secondly, sadly, the U.S. helped construct a sectarian based regime in Iraq by dividing the spoils along sectarian lines, as opposed to building a system based on citizenship and the rule of law. These mistakes are still with us today. Iraq does not really have a functioning, effective army, because the army had to be built from scratch.
These three factors: the U.S. invasion, the dissolving of Iraqi institutions, and replacing Saddam Hussein’s regime with a sectarian-based system really helped al-Qaida in Iraq, which is now called ISIS. Do you see what I’m trying to say? ISIS is not alien. It did not...[read on]