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Iraq Crisis | From an Arab Spring to a Desert of Desperation


It was just over a decade ago that Iraqi cities were falling to the unholy assault led by foreign militias, vowing to overthrow the government and ‘liberate’ the Iraqi people. Baghdad’s streets bathed in blood, a functional state turned into a failed one; the ultimate cost of land and life was colossal and incalculable.

The sanctified streets of Iraq are witnessing similar events yet again; the fact that the insurgency of 2003 was led by American and British military might carries no discernible moral credit. The chaotic climate, the barbaric bloodshed and the grotesque guerrilla fighting are painfully similar; whether the perpetrators are bankrolled by American tax dollars or the deep pockets of oil tycoons is inconsequential to these streets.

The insurgency lead by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has won key sites in Iraq, including Mosul, and is moving towards the capital. It has succeeded in diminishing parts of the Iraq-Syria border and proclaims to have undone the national boundaries drawn by colonial powers during the Sykes-Picot agreement. It’s now in control of essentially a state stretching from Falujjah in western Iraq to the borders of Aleppo in Syria; it has even declared the city of Raqqah as the capital. The unforgiving civil war which has obliterated Syria has now been merged with the conflict in Iraq.

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American intervention in Iraq appears to be recurring theme of recent history. Following the Gulf War and the illegal invasion which ignited the Iraq War,  it has tangled itself in the web of Iraq’s political woes yet again. It has deployed a contingent of about 300 troops to advice the government and is now considering air strikes to dismantle ISIS. Experts have warned these as indications of mission creep; a small operation which turns into full fledged war as was the case during the Vietnam War.

Military action by the US in Iraq would have disastrous consequences. American presence in that region in the past decade has clearly shown that the fantasy of creating a stable democracy is a costly experiment, which always ends in a bloody nightmare. An intervention would only raise the threat of a retaliatory attack on American soil as the country will become an active participant in a conflict which has so far been regional.  Drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have repeatedly shown the utter ineffectiveness any of these means have on stifling militant activity. UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, too, has warned that military strikes “might have little lasting effect or even be counterproductive”.

Despite the repeated failures, it seems that America has not learned to curb its imperial puppeteering or revamp its foreign policy. History has  shown that its militaristic tinkering almost always wreaks havoc and creates vacuums of authority which are populated by leadership that is far worse; the rise of the Taliban is a prime example. There’s no doubt that this crisis is the poisonous fruit from the seeds of anarchy sown in the aftermath of the forced removal of Saddam Hussein. Saudi and Western support for Syrian rebels in recent years has only aided the insurgency and has allowed them to destabilize that entire region to its current state.

Intertwining of the Iraq-Syria conflict has resulted in conundrum for U.S and its allies: in Syria they want to overthrow Bashar-al-Assad and have been supporting the rebellion (albeit gingerly); in Iraq they want to maintain the government they installed, but the very rebellion they’re supporting in Syria wants to overthrow the Iraqi regime. That fact that the US is now considering strikes against the Sunni rebels, but balked away when it came to attacking Assad, is a already viewed as a minor victory for the Syrian regime.

How next few weeks will play is anyone’s guess, but the most prudent Western-Saudi policy would be to avoid a military intervention. Instead of trying to shape the conflict to meet its geo-political whims,  America should work within the new power structure that is emerging in that region (Sunni, Shia, Kurds). It should co-operate with regional powers to mitigate further anarchy; sort of an ‘enclave strategy’ as suggested by Fareed Zakariya.

The glimmer of hope that emerged in the wake of the Arab Springs is turning out to be a mirage in the desert of desperation that is now the Middle-East. Egypt has a new despot in power, lawlessness is rampant in Libya, Syria has disintegrated, Iraq is expected to fall apart, militants have dismembered Afghanistan and Pakistan; Palestine continues to be under occupation with no relief in sight. The raging battlefields, unprecedented lawlessness and scathing sectarianism that stretch across the Muslim world will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the darkest periods of post-modern Islamic history.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs for MuslimMatters. His work has focused on Muslim minorities, human rights, culture and international conflicts. Currently based out of Montreal, he holds a Ph.D. in particle physics from McGill University. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election. contact: waleed dot ahmed at



  1. Adam

    June 23, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    Well said Waleed, how do you suggest unifying at least the mainstream sunnis & shias and bringing the extremists to moderation? You are a sportsman, so how about using sports such as Football to bring them closer and to moderation? :)

    • Adam

      June 24, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      People seem to liked the Football idea. Infact I tweeted president Obama to drop a Million Footballs in troubled parts of Iraq instead of dropping bombs!! :-)

  2. John Howard

    June 23, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    The west has a lot to answer for but be honest with your selves the islamic nations have nothing at all to be proud of There is hardly one of the that could be held up as a shining light of decency and freedom and equality is there. The reality is what ever power or government you mentioned all were or are of their own making and the main reason it seems that has made them the vicious and disastrous failures they are is the sectarianism that divides islam. The west may have been the catalyst in starting this chain of events but the reality is that it was always going to happen because it appears to non muslims that you cannot stand each other and given a chance you will be at each others throats until one has total domination. You may well end up with a great exodus from your faith due in no small way in the way each branch of islam attacks each other There is an old saying in politics if you can’t manage your selves how can you manage a country ?

    • Z

      June 24, 2014 at 7:53 PM

      John Howard, even though I consider myself a religious individual, I agree with you 110%. I am a Muslim Somali and instead of the banner of faith to bring us together we are using tribalism to disunite us even more. May Allah unite the hearts of Muslims where ever they may be.

  3. Mahmud

    June 23, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Good article.

    What is “post-modern” Islamic history?

    One more thing-many of the Shia are disbelievers. They have exaggerated the status of Imams and worshipped the dead in the graves and so on. There cannot possibly be any unity with them. Why doesn’t Iraq at the moment split into three-Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs? There is no point keeping the place together.

    • Hyde

      June 24, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Kudos for unity. Really kudos.

    • Adam

      June 24, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      Mr. Mahmud,
      You really proved the point what Mr. John Howard mentioned in his comments. Who cares what shias, sunnis, christians or hindus believe. If you are really obsessed with your hereafter as you have said in your profile then why don’t you go out in the world and help the poors suffering from starvation and disease?? Problem with over zealous religious extremists is that they can’t stand any other human being who doesn’t agree with them. Did God assign you to judge other people?? If you really want salvation then try to be Spiritual and not just religious!! Think about it before you jump to respond.

      • Mahmud

        June 24, 2014 at 1:18 PM

        Adam-that’s a pretty big red herring. Who on earth says I don’t already try to help the poor from starvation and disease?

        Secondly, beliefs ABSOLUTELY matter. Disbelievers are in the fire of hell forever as promised by Allah aza wa jal. It’s imperative for a believer to show compassion to them just as an-Nabi (S) and the Sahaba RA showed compassion to disbelievers and call them to Islam so they can be saved from the eternal fire that awaits them should they fail to enter Islam.

        Now, if you want to call an-Nabi SAW and the Sahaba RA overzealous extremists, then your burden is your own to bear. But as for me, I will follow their way even though you may hate it.

        • Adam

          June 24, 2014 at 2:47 PM

          lol…Exactly proving my point!! thanks mr. hellfire

          • Mahmud

            June 25, 2014 at 3:13 AM

            If you have so little compassion that you will not want to call people to salvation, then I cannot put mercy in your heart after Allah has taken it out.

          • Adam

            June 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM

            Thanks but No thanks, I don’t need your compassion.
            Your Compassion = Slaughter ppl in the name of religion and then wish they burn in hell
            My Compassion = Help ppl live and wish they enjoy paradise

          • Mahmud

            June 25, 2014 at 1:10 PM

            My compassion-call people to Islam so that they can die as Muslims and sooner or later enter Paradise. Because Allah and His Messenger clearly explained that Islam is the only acceptable deen.

            Where on earth did you get the slaughter and wish they burn in hell from?

            Your compassion-help people live? You should call them to Islam so they can live in Jannah forever if you truly care about them.

        • Hyde

          June 24, 2014 at 7:27 PM

          I enjoy a little hell too, but this obsession with sending people to hell is pathetic at this stage.

          Tell me something,what is a disbeliever ? Are the lost tribes tribes in the Amazon that have never heard of Islam kaffirs too ? What about people that are born to hate Islam,; they do not make a choice but are automatons in their hate ?

          Save them from hell fire ? So from one point point they are eternally damned if they don’t believe, yet at the same time we must show compassion to them and save them ??? Who are we to save anybody ? You starting to sound like one of those Christian missionaries who want to save people.

          Keep this up and you will lose an entire generation of Muslims.

          • Mahmud

            June 25, 2014 at 3:11 AM

            1) We don’t send people to hell. Allah aza wa jal does.

            2) A disbeliever is one who Islam reached but he failed to enter it

            3) People may be born and raised with baises. If Islam reached them and they failed to enter it, they are disbelievers.

            4) When they die they are eternally damned as promised by Allah. Right now we try to call them to Islam so that they do not enter the fire and they die as Muslims instead

            5) We don’t “save” anybody in the ultimate sense. Rather, we call them to Islam and it’s our duty that the clear and clarifying message reaches them. We hope they enter Islam so that they are saved by Allah from being in the fire forever

            6) Your neg reps won’t affect me in the long run. An-Nabi SAW and the believers were unpopular at one time as well. And most people in the world are mushrikeen. Being right isn’t dependent on popularity

            7) An-Nabi SAW called people to Islam to bring them out of the darknesses into the light by Allah’s permission-and we have this Ummah as a result. If we lose some, we gain others.

          • Mahmud

            June 25, 2014 at 3:17 AM

            PS-you shouldn’t enjoy hell, it’s absolutely horrific. You should hate it for yourself and for mankind. It’s been promised to the disbelievers and you should call them to Islam and show concern and fear over them before they die in their state.

            Anas ibn Malik reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.”

            Source: Sahih Muslim 45

            Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Imam Muslim

            عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لِأَخِيهِ أَوْ قَالَ لِجَارِهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ

            45 صحيح مسلم كتاب الإيمان باب الدليل على أن من خصال الإيمان أن يحب لأخيه المسلم ما يحب لنفسه من الخير

            Fear Allah Hyde.

          • Hyde

            June 25, 2014 at 10:38 AM

            1. Let’s us not infer the mind of God.
            2. Disbelievers who are acutely aware of their disbelief. And with the likes of you giving the message of Islam, why would anybody volt face on their opinions on Islam ?
            3. See 2 plus Medium is the Message. If people only know about Islam via CNN and Dawkins, then it really has not reached them.
            4. Eternally damned ? Are you going to be there passing judgement on the eternally damned ? Die as Muslims…yeah that’s a very good dawee technique. We ARE NOT Christian worshipers. We do not need to go looking to save people for god.
            5. Again lets not let god become anthropomorphic to imagine what we think.
            6. Shame on you. Have you circuitously takfeered me ?
            7. Lose some gain others ? What is this a game ? “Saving souls” is a game now ?

            P,S. Not my job to call out for Islam. I am selfish. Worried about my own soul. Don’t want to get stuck anywhere on Dante’s level.
            Fear Allah Gibran or Mahmud

          • Aly Balagamwala

            June 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM

            Dear Mahmud & Hyde

            I think we are straying from the topic here and I always feel uneasy when I see the word “Takfeer” coming up. I think we should end the conversation here.

            Best Regards
            CommentsTeam Lead

          • Hyde

            June 25, 2014 at 4:08 PM

            On another note since I got you here Mr moderator; this site needs a serious kick in the back to get to phase II, because the appearance is lack luster, it’s difficult to keep track of comments, the comments appear not always in a queue etc. What about Disqus ? Or something else ?

          • Aly Balagamwala

            June 26, 2014 at 9:55 AM

            Disqus didn’t work for us when we implemented it. This work for us. Send your suggestions for design to info [at] muslimmatters [dot] org and we will try incorporate in our next makeover in sha Allah

    • Dia

      June 24, 2014 at 1:42 PM

      I’m a sunni muslim and passionate about History. Something I have observed is, with the passage of time, muslim world is turning more into catholic-protestant era instead of unifying with each other. Allah tells muslims in the Quran to “Say: O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you…”
      then how much more important do you think it is for “shia and sunni” to come to common terms…im sure there are far more common beliefs among these two sects than there are between people of the book and muslims.

      Muhammad ali jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan was Ismaili muslim, even among shias, ismaili shias are considered non muslims, but it is said that he later embraced the prominent sunni belief. My point is, can you imagine in our time a man from non-sunni family trying to be a leader, how would the masses react? I doubt anyone would stand behind him, but back in the days, all muslims of the subcontinent united behind this one man who neither spoke urdu, nor wore Pakistani dress and whose lifestyle reflected all the western and non-Islamic elements, YET all muslims “united” behind this one man and Allah gave their cause success.

      even before that was Saladin…who was he? he was a Kurd…but no one cared about his origin, all muslims united behind this one man and Allah gave them honorable victory.

      What happened when the prophet (s.a.w) came out with the information about specific day of layla-tul-qadr? Muslims were arguing and the fitna from their argument caused the prophet (s.a.w) to forget the information about the night of layla-tul qadr.

      I’m sick of sunni bashing shias and shias bashing sunnis. When a child is killed on either side, he/she is a muslim child, not shia not sunni. Its a disgrace to see what ummah is facing. We are not just separated into religious sects but also tribal. Once shia and sunni thing is settled, then question arises about which tribe should rule. Then among the tribe, there are sub-categories.

      Unless muslims realize that there is no victory in calling each other “disbelievers”, I don’t see any change. Eventually they have to realize that uniting under ONE GOD, ONE PROPHET and ONE BOOK is the only solution, and showing Tolerance to others in the region (the people of the book and groups like kurdish yazidis etc) is the only way to keep peace and prosperity in land.

      May Allah guide us all to the straight path and give us the wisdom to spread peace on His land!

      • Adam

        June 24, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        Well said Dia!! Peace to humanity and down with alqaida and their offshoots.

      • Hyde

        June 24, 2014 at 7:31 PM

        Jinnah’s Ishamli roots played well into his division of religion and politics, but I agree with your message.

  4. Omer

    June 23, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    Assalam O Alaikum – jzk for the overview. Just a correction its sykes picot not skyes..perhaps a typ-o graphical error.

  5. Abdellatif

    June 24, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    Salam alaykoum,

    I feel sorry for Iraq but do you think you help them by citing people like Ban Ki Moon or Fareed Zakariya ?


  6. Shahzad Mustafa

    June 24, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    The lack of thought leadership in the sunni world is the root cause of our problems. There is no articulation of how to operate Islam in a post-colonial, Western-dominated, pluralistic and globalized world. The lack of leadership creates a vacuum which is filled by the jihadist ideology, whose basic method is to destroy and “hopefully” replace it with an “Islamic” system. I have come to a conclusion that jihad without leadership and unity is a futile cause. Every jihadist project has resulted in failure and misery: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, Pakistan, Syria come to mind. Syria is destroyed with countless dead. We would have been better off with Assad still in power even if he is a disbeliever and oppressor. Iraq similarly will fail.

    • Mahmud

      June 25, 2014 at 3:33 AM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Unfortunately many of the mujahideen have disobeyed Allah and His Messenger and crossed His limits. However, that does not mean jihad is wrong or that Muslims are not commanded to establish Allah’s deen on earth. Rather, we already see obedient believers among Mujahideen in Syria and elsewhere inshaa Allah rising to fight until Allah’s word is highest and their is no more persecution.

      • Hyde

        June 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        Yeah playing football with people’s head are the signs of the Muajaid. Blood thirsty men who are unemployed, depressed, unmarried, lack of decent living,..instead of jumping of bridges, they are running with guns.
        The lust in a men a heart to die for glory is there. Trust me on that. To die for God is honorable and serves the self rationalizing purpose of existence for many. But this butchery and senseless murder is never going to be sanctioned by our deen. Let not these people even enter the halls of the Companions, because they are not worth it.

  7. Warren Clark

    June 24, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    There is no crisis in Iraq. The mujahideen (ISIS) are taking over and establishing Islam. It is only a crisis for the corrupt government officials and the money hungry Western elite.

    • Adam

      June 26, 2014 at 1:57 AM

      Mr. WC,
      What is “establishing islam”?? Do you have any sense of what you are saying?? You are praising the criminals who enjoy killing ppl. Is that your religion?? Its about time you wake up and see yourself in the mirror and THINK carefully.

      • Warren Clark

        July 3, 2014 at 6:03 PM

        Establishing Islam is establishing Quran and Sunnah (Khilafah). The current 50 nations that we have today is not the ruling system that Islam wants for us. ISIS have not killed any innocent people. They were in Iraq fighting Americans, Assads regime, and Malikis army. How is that criminal or terrorism?

  8. Heba Sh.

    June 24, 2014 at 11:55 PM

    Good article

    But Iraq was far from being a “functional state” (as the author puts it) under Saddam Hussein

    • Waleed Ahmed

      June 25, 2014 at 12:19 AM

      i.e. more functional than it was before the invasion.

  9. M.S.

    June 25, 2014 at 1:40 PM

    SubhanalAllah……..every where you look in the world, things are playing out like a never-ending bad horror movie.


    I am not trying to play arm-chair policy quaterback, however the other day I came across a verse and it stood out to me in a profound way. Although the verse is regarding past generations, it certainly shines a light on events happening in our current generation. The question is, what can do to alleviate and/or get ourselves out of these situations?

    Surah Al-‘Araf verse 96: “And if the people of the towns had believed and had Taqwa (piety), certainly, We would have opened upon them Barakah (blessings) from the heaven and the earth, but they denied (the Messengers). So We took them (with punishment) for what they used to earn (in disbelief and crimes, etc.).”

    May Allah protect us from al-fitnah and protect us from the punishments of this world, the grave and the hereafter. May Allah give us Your Barakah, and bring Taqwa back to our hearts. O’ Allah shower us all with peace and mercy, give us all patience and bring justice to all those suffering from disease, tyranny, oppression and injustice.

    • Mahmud

      June 25, 2014 at 2:11 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Ameen to your dua.

      I’ve been listening to that ayah quite often now because of this recitation-

      • M.S.

        June 26, 2014 at 6:22 PM

        Thank you bro, good recitation.

        Masha Allah! May Allah preserve and have mercy on Shaykh AbdulRashid Ali Sufi and his family. He is one of my favorite reciters.

        Insha Allah one day, I hope to own complete collections of all his recitations in the 10 Qiraa’at.

        PS: Does anyone know where one can find Shaykh AbdulRashid’s complete Quran recitations in Riwaya al-Durri, Riwaya Khallad ‘an Hamzah, any Qiraa’at of Nafi’ al-Madani (Riwaya Warsh or Qaloon), any Qiraa’at of Ibn ‘Aamir Al-Dimishqi (Riwaya Hisham or Ibn Dhakwan) and/or Qiraa’at of Ibn Kathir Al-Makki?

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