Much has been made of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s comments in his interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that there are “elements of truth” that the War in Iraq was the principle cause for the rise of ISIS.
A few years ago, I reluctantly posed the question, “Should Saddam Have Stayed in Power?” While U.S. and Coalition troops deposed one of the greatest mass murderers of second half of the 20th Century, it also created an environment where Iran has emerged with far greater power as well as one where hundreds of thousands of Christians fled Iraq.
Yet I’m not so sure the emergence of ISIS is a direct consequence of the Iraq War, but rather due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops after President Obama failed to renew a Status of Forces agreement. Had Obama been able to renew the SOFA I am inclined to think that ISIS would not have been able to capture Mosul in June 2014.
One other factor that must also be taken into consideration is the schism between ISIS and al Qaeda. The reasons for this schism are complex, but essentially revolve around the declaration of an Islamic caliphate (which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did in June 2014). For years, ISIS operated in al Qaeda’s shadow and this likely led to Obama’s reference to ISIS as the “jayvee squad.” In February 2014, al Qaeda formally disavowed ISIS and ISIS began escalating its activities soon after. Would ISIS be nearly as strong as it is today if it wasn’t for its conflict with al Qaeda?
The Iraq War can be blamed for many things, but I don’t believe the emergence of ISIS is one of them.
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