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Iraq and Afghanistan War in a Muslim Perspective
For Westerners and the rest of the Christian-Judeo population, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as popularized by the United States, is just another war on terror; a much needed offensive in order to protect the United States and its allies from terrorism. However, for a Muslim, these wars could mean differently. Iraq and Afghanistan are Islamic countries. Most Muslims view the Americans as the aggressor and in both instances, whether in Iraq or in Afghanistan, it was the Americans who are visibly the invading forces. Several justifications have been made for these wars. Primarily, the war would ensure that the threat of Islamic terrorism is lessened by establishing governments that are pro west. However, Muslims are quite skeptical of these justifications. For them, the major reason of American presence in the Middle East is to protect their best interest in the region’s vast oil resources. As a matter of religion, whenever an attack to fellow Muslim is made from another that is not Muslim, all the Muslims in the world feel a sense of sympathy towards their brothers. For the same reason, the war is as much religious as it is political. For Muslims, terrorism is a matter of perspective; for what may be considered as a terror act for some, others may find it as just an act of retaliation . For the same reason, while Westerner and non-Muslim countries view the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as a preventive measure for terrorism, Muslims view it as foreign invasion and interference.
Afghanistan has a history of international conflict that goes back since the British forces invaded it in 1842. Most recently though, the war in Afghanistan was triggered by the September 11 attacks on the United States launched by a terrorist group believed to have originated in Afghanistan. The Al Qaeda, once considered as the biggest and most notorious terrorist organization in the world, has established its base in Afghanistan. The same group claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda was a small Islamic extremist group that started during the Soviet-Afghan war between 1979 and 1989. This group was founded by Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was a son of an Arab building tycoon who was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957. While the western world considers Osama Bin Laden as a notorious terrorist leader, it should be noted that he is considered as a hero and an icon in the Islamic world. While others find him as a cold blooded killer, most Muslims regard Bin Laden and his group as freedom fighters. Bin Laden’s campaign was quite extra ordinary. At a young age of 11, Osama Bin Laden inherited $80 million as a result of his father’s death in a helicopter crash in 1969. Instead of living the good life as can be afforded by his inherited wealth, Bin Laden used his money to help and finance Islamic cause in the region. Among the most significant deeds that earned him his reputation was in helping Afghanistan defeat the Soviets in December of 1979. It should be noted that during that date, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the regime of Hafizullah Amin and reinstate Afghan’s pro-communist president, Babrak Kamal. In response to this Soviet invasion, the CIA with the help of the Pakistani military organized a resistance movement. Thousands of Islamic guerilla volunteers who call themselves as mujahideen which means “strugglers or strivers” in Arabic, came in response to the call of fellow Muslims with the aim of pushing back the Soviets from the Afghan territory. The plight of the Afghans and the mujahideen encouraged support from wealthy Muslims including Osama Bin Laden. Using his family’s influence and resources, Bin Laden travelled to Afghanistan in 1984 and recruited Arab jihadist to fight as mujahideens which would later become Al Qaeda.
Skepticism on US Intentions in Afghanistan
Even before the Afghan war, many Muslims are already skeptical about the intention of the United States in Afghanistan. This skepticism intensified when rumors of U.S. intervention to the country’s domestic affairs spread widely among Muslims. It is an open secret that during the Afghan war against the Soviets, the mujahideen militants have been provided extensive training and support ironically by the US government by channeling it through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This enabled the Islamic militant group to establish training camps and network of jihadists which would prove later to be an integral and important aspect of the Al Qaeda’s success in their terror activities. According to Chossudovsky, there was a covert U.S. assistance between the Islamic militant groups of Afghanistan. Aside from a dramatic increase in arms supplies from the U.S. 1987, an increasing number of CIA operatives and Pentagon specialists traveled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels. Bin Laden founded Al Qaeda during the course of the war. In Arabic, Al Qaeda means ‘the base’ or ‘foundation’. Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda would serve as the core of his militant movement against the Soviets. With the backing of the US and Islamic states in the Afghan War, the organization grew in strength and reputation. Eventually, the mujahideen and the newly founded Al Qaeda organization succeeded in pushing back the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. After the war, the Al Qaeda did not cease to operate. It has expanded its operation to include Islamic extremist groups in various countries in which it has become a complex network “of regional affiliate organizations and clandestine cells”. Initially, the organization was headed by Osama Bin Laden and his delegate Ayman al-Zawahiri who supervises the organization from their stronghold in Afghanistan. Later, they were joined by military veterans from the wars in Chechnya and the Balkans which formed part of the organization’s leadership.
Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda
Al Qaeda’s conflict with the Americans started when the US led an invasion in Iraq in 1991. Bin Laden declared jihad as he does not approve of the US forces military bases in Saudi Arabia in which according to him defiles the holy places. From the war with the Soviets, Bin Laden found a new motivation and that is a holy war against the Westerners specifically with the Americans. Calling on his fellow Arabs, in 1992, the Al Qaida leadership published a fatwa; rallying all Muslims against the United States and western presence in the Middle East. What was once a group fighting for a nation’s independence; Al Qaeda evolved into the most wanted terrorist group of all time. A string of terror attacks followed with the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Some terror groups who have indirect link and have little association with Al Qaeda performs terror acts in its name. After the 9/11 attacks, the US heightened its fight against terrorism specifically with Al Qaeda and its leader which have evaded capture for more than a decade. Finally, in 2011, the United States received and intelligence report that Bin Laden has been hiding in Pakistan. After months of surveillance, a Navy SEAL team was dispatched in Abbottabad, Pakistan the night of May 1, 2011 in an operation code named Geronimo which eventually killed the infamous leader of Al Qaeda. Though the killing of Bin Laden was a huge loss to Al Qaeda and has greatly weakened the organization, the group remained as a serious threat. According to Miller; “The emerging picture is of a network that is crumpled at its core, apparently incapable of an attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, yet poised to survive its founder’s demise”. However, the fall of Al Qaeda and its leader does not guarantee destruction of Islamic terrorism. In fact, several Islamic groups have emerged, which could have been influenced in one way or another by Al Qaeda and Bin Laden’s prestige. In contemplation of this scenario, the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan in the basis of stopping terrorism has ultimately failed.
Just like Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein was tagged as a terrorist in order to justify the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nevertheless, Hussein was not as notorious as the Americans would like most people to believe. Saddam Hussein was born from a ruling Sunni family in Al-Awja Tikrit Iraq in April 28, 1937. He started his political career at an early age of 20 when he joined the Ba’th party in 1957. By then, the Ba’th party was involved in an attempt to assassinate its prime minister, General Abd al-Karim Qassim. However, when their attempt failed, Hussein flees to Cairo after being imprisoned for 6 months in Iraq. Qassim was successfully ousted by the Ba’th Party in 1963 after which, Hussein returned to Iraq and quickly became one of the party’s key leaders. Hussein continued his political activism under the Ba’th and was eventually elected as its general secretary, vice president and deputy head of its Revolutionary Command Council under the new Iraqi president General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr his uncle. Saddam Hussein has made a fearsome reputation while working under his uncle’s government. In order to establish his party’s supremacy, he purged the Ba’ath government of its political enemies. Arif’s known allies were imprisoned, tortured and executed while he established the Ba’ath party’s undisputed political supremacy. While his cruelty and fearsome reputation is well-known, Hussein has a remarkable and commendable contribution to the modernization and development of Iraq. Under his direction, Iraq nationalized its oil production thereby giving the country more control on its oil resources. During the time, Hussein’s move was already alarming in the perspective of foreign countries that have interests in Iraq’s oil. Even so, the nationalization of the country’s oil brought revenues that enabled the government to fund their social reforms agenda. Saddam Hussein headed Iraq’s social reform in education and health. Accordingly, he established health programs which were considered as one of the best in the Middle East. Iraq quickly industrialized under his direction while he speeds up developments in infrastructures and energy enhancement programs. He also made improvements to Iraq’s agricultural sector. In 1979, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr resigned his post as president and was immediately succeeded by Saddam Hussein.
Triggers of the Iraq War
Saddam’s unprecedented contribution to the development of Iraq has made him beloved and respected among his constituents. As observed by Spindlove and Simonsen, Saddam’s political platform was “a combination of moderate social democracy, close to the European model, amidst a struggle to keep the country of various ethnic and religious groups together”. Prior to Saddam’s regime, Iraq’s society is prone to internal conflicts because of the warring Islamic factions. Of its entire population, 60 to 65 percent are Shia while 32 to 37 percent are Sunnis while the remaining 3 percent are of various religious denominations. These two major Islamic groups have been struggling for control which always results to violence. At times, the violence is so intense that it was feared that the conflicts might escalate to a civil war. When Saddam Hussein came to power, the warring Islamic factions were somehow subdued. Hussein made efforts to unite these warring factions by advocating economic developments and absorbing militant Shi’ites into the army. However, while everything is going well with Iraq, his regime was disturbed once in a while by the unruly Kurds in the north who are launching their attacks from an Iranian territory. To deal with the Kurds, Hussein knew he first needs the cooperation of the Iranians. To do this, he plans to cross the border and take the Iraqi Kurds from their refuge and so he made a peace pact with the Shah of Iran so he could attack the rebels without resistance from the Iranian military. Historically, Iraq and Iran has a long dispute over the supply of water coming from the two main rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. The make the Shah of Iran agree with his military campaign against the Kurds, Saddam Hussein gave way Iran’s rights to the water ways. However, his plans were disturbed when the Shi’ite led a revolution in Iran. With Iran succumbing to the Shi’ite faction, Hussein fear that the revolution would spill out in his territory. For whatever reason it was, Iraq invaded Iran, which led to the Iraq-Iran war. In 1980, Saddam Hussain led his army to invade the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestanwhich. Hussein was expecting an easy victory however the Iranians resisted and the war draw to a stalemate. Even though he did not win the war, Hussein’s reputation as an Arab avenger has drawn support from most of the Arab nations who resent the Iranians. According to Israeli, “Saddam now symbolically stood at the forefront of the Arab efforts to defeat the most dangerous and long-term enemy of the Arab nation, and they in turn, owed him their unconditional support: military, political, economic and financial”.
Invasion of Iraq
Just like Afghanistan, the Iraq War was launched in connection with the September 11 attack. Also, just like Afghanistan, the American intention in launching the invasion of Iraq is questionable. It seems that the United States has just been waiting for an opportunity to interfere with affairs of Arab countries for their own political and economic agenda. Since leading the nationalization of Iraq’s petroleum industry, the United States relations with Hussein’s regime has gone sour. But Saddam Hussein gambled on the thought that the foreign powers would not so much interfere with two warring Arab nations. The Soviet and the West on the other hand was more than willing to support the war efforts of both countries. War is good business as they sell arms and ammunition to both sides. The tides changed however when Saddam Hussein turned his gaze over the rich oil fields of Kuwait. After proclaiming himself as victor from the Iran-Iraq war, he began rebuilding his battered army and prepared to invade Kuwait after creating a dispute over oil. This was his big blunder though since it sends a distressing signal to the United States and other foreign power that the Middle East’s oil reserves might go under his control. After he invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United States who was just waiting to dispose him has found an opportunity. With reports of Hussein having possession of biological and chemical weapons and an ongoing nuclear program, the United States has found a mounting reason to justify their intervention. In 1991, the United States led the attack on Iraqi forces on the premise of liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invaders which marked the start of the first US involvement in the Gulf War. The involvement of the US and the coalition forces compelled Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and accept the terms of a ceasefire. With mounting pressures from the US and the UN, Hussein allowed the UN inspectors to investigate the alleged acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Hussein as this point has been more than willing to cooperate as he knows that the pressures from the international community might compromise his dictatorship. The United States however have already decided his fate. Even without proving Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, the United States launched an attack on Baghdad in 2003 eventually capturing Sadam Hussein while his two sons were killed in a gunfight. Saddam Hussein was imprisoned and tried for crimes against humanity and was convicted and executed in 2006.
Iraq War Motivations
While everyone is led to believe that the war in Iraq is about terrorism and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, different motivations may have convinced the United States to invade Iraq. It should be noted that the United States have been mostly tolerant and even supportive of the Ba’ath’ Party’s regime. In fact, there have been strong allegations that reveal United States’ involvement to the Ba’ath Party’s rise to power in that coup in 1968. James Akins, a US diplomat who has served in Baghdad during that time mentioned that the CIA was definitely involved in that coup. Accordingly, he saw the rise of the Ba'athists as “a way of replacing a pro-Soviet government with a pro-American one and you don't get that chance very often” (Akins as cited in Representative Press, n.d.). For years, the US has struggled to gain control of the Middle East oil industry. It is only possible that it would jump in any scenario that would further their vested interest in the region even if it means war. Accordingly, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), for example, has been created by the United States to serve this purpose. Plans for nationalizing Iraq’s petroleum go back to the regimes prior to Saddam’s, which could threatened the hold of the United States towards the country. Perhaps by backing the Ba’ath regime, the United States expects that these plans to nationalize would be discarded. Unfortunately, Saddam’s regime proved to be more unruly than its predecessor. Instead of going through with the American agenda, Saddam nationalized Iraq’s petroleum industry when he came to power challenging the US interests in the region even further. The United States is therefore placed in an uncompromising position. If they allow Saddam’s challenge to go unchecked, it would dent America’s reputation and superiority in the region; the implication of which would be unacceptable for it could embolden other Arab states to do the same. For the same reason, the war on Iraq was a multipronged activity for the United States wherein it can accomplish several objectives through a show of force.
The war in Afghanistan and Iraq war have lasting implications not only in the affected regions but also among their Muslim brothers and Islamic states. If viewed in a Muslim perspective, the war did nothing more than leaving the countries more devastated and unstable before the war broke out. These wars imply that the United States can force their will into foreign nations to further their motives and personal interests even for the sake of civilian and military lives. As western influence in the Middle East region continues, it is unlikely that a long-term peace can be achieved. Troubles will continue to arise and it is not likely that an internal problem can be resolved externally. If the major powers is concerned about making a lasting peace in the Middle East, they should realize that the conflict is caused primarily by internal issues and can only be resolved internally and not by means of war. It should be understood that as Islamic states, countries in the Middle East such as Iraq and Afghanistan have their own traditions and customs that foreign countries must respect. How can an infidel decide the fate of the Muslims? For the same reason, no form of government or leadership that is established by a non-Muslim will ever be free from skepticism. Only a Muslim can resolve the problem of their fellow Muslim and unless this level of respect is achieved, there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East.
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