Iraq is still far from the liberal democracy Washington had envisioned twenty years after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein and his regime in the oil-rich country.


We will never forget the “shock and awe” attacks that President George W. Bush ordered after 9/11, the toppling of the giant Saddam statue, or the years of bloody sectarian turmoil that followed.

The decision to dismantle Iraq’s state, party, and military apparatus after the March 20, 2003 ground invasion exacerbated the chaos that fueled years of bloodletting and eventually gave rise to the jihadist Daesh group.

The United States and its allies, primarily the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq in an effort to remove its dictator, but they ultimately withdrew, leaving the country unstable and under the control of Washington’s archenemy, Iran.

The US “simply did not understand the nature of Iraqi society, the nature of the regime they were overthrowing,” according to Samuel Helfont, an assistant professor of strategy at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.

Bush, whose father had gone to war with Iraq in 1990–91 after Saddam’s attack on Kuwait, said he wanted to impose “liberal democracy,” but Helfont noted that the desire to do so would wane even if Saddam were to be quickly deposed.

“Building a democracy takes time and building a democracy does not create a utopia overnight,” said Hamzeh Haddad, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

While the international coalition led by the United States failed to find any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons in Iraq, they did succeed in traumatizing the local population, alienating some longtime allies, and generally making things worse for themselves.

After a deadly bombing of a Muslim Shiite shrine in Samarra north of Baghdad in February 2006, major violence flared again in Iraq for two years.

The Iraq Body Count organization estimates that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by the time the United States withdrew in 2011 under Barack Obama. Nearly 4,500 Americans were killed while fighting for the United States.
In 2014, the Daesh group declared its “caliphate” and swept across nearly a third of Iraq; their barbaric reign ended in 2017 after a lengthy military campaign.
Some 2,500 American troops are currently stationed in Iraq, but they are not there to occupy the country; rather, they serve in an advisory, noncombat role for the international coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State, which are still launching bombings and other attacks here and there.
Iraqi society, which has always included people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds, has been profoundly altered by the years of violence that have occurred there. In what the United Nations has called a “genocidal campaign,” members of the Yazidi minority have been persecuted, and many members of the country’s once-thriving Christian community have fled.
The federal government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish authority in northern Iraq have been at odds for some time, particularly over oil exports.

Over a hundred people were killed in a violent crackdown that followed nationwide protests led by young Iraqis in October 2019. The protesters were angry about ineffective leadership, widespread corruption, and Iranian interference.

The United Nations estimates that 35% of Iraq’s young people are unemployed, and that 13% of the country’s 42 million people live in poverty.

The political climate has not improved, and it took a full year of parliamentary bickering following the election for a new government to be sworn in in October of last year.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has vowed to crack down on corruption in his country, which ranks 157th out of 180 on Transparency International’s index of perceived levels of corruption.

According to Haddad, “every Iraqi can tell you that corruption began to thrive… in the 1990s,” when Iraq was subject to international sanctions. He also noted that graft is receiving more attention now “because Iraq is open to the world.”

Iraq is also being hit hard by other problems, such as its crumbling infrastructure, regular power outages, a lack of water, and the effects of climate change.

Haddad argued that the current Iraq is a “democratizing state” that requires additional time for development because “democracy is messy.”
The US invasion of Iraq had the unintended consequence of giving Iran a lot more sway over the country, which is a major problem for the US because Iran is an enemy.

Even though the two countries were at war for many years in the 1980s, their shared Shia Muslim culture and religion have helped keep the peace.

Iran supplies Iraq with gas, electricity, and consumer goods, and Iraq has become an important economic lifeline for the Islamic Republic as it has been hit by sanctions over its contested nuclear program.

Shiite parties in Iraq, liberated from Sunni dictator Saddam’s rule, have become “the most powerful players,” according to Hamdi Malik, an associate fellow at the Washington Institute.
Despite internal strife following the most recent elections, he said, Iran-backed groups have maintained a certain “cohesion,” and “Iran is playing a crucial role” in ensuring that this cohesion holds.

In contrast, minorities in Iraq Because of deep divisions within their own ranks, “Kurds and Sunnis are not strong players,” Malik argued.

More than 150,000 former Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary forces fighters have been integrated into the state military, and pro-Iranian parties hold a majority in Iraq’s parliament.

A Western diplomat in Iraq, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says that Baghdad must now manage relations with both Washington and Tehran.

The diplomat explained that the country was attempting to “strike a balance” between its relationships with Iran, its Sunni neighbors, and the West. The process is “extremely delicate.”