By Hannah Harms
This is another post to showcase work from students who go above and beyond the assignment. In this one, an assignment for my Global Politics course (an introductory class in International Relations), Hannah Harms writes a review of "Enemy of Enemies: The Rise of ISIL," an excellent documentary produced by Al-Jazeera about the role of the United States and Iraq on the rise of the Islamic State. For the assignment I asked students to review the documentary and connect it to our textbook, Mingst and Arreguin-Toft's Essentials of International Relations. Early in the semester I also told students they could use other sources, including the Duck of Minerva blog. In her assignment, Hannah used an article from the blog to corroborate her argument. In the end, Hannah connects the documentary to the current Syrian refugee crisis. Below are Hannah's thought process and her review of the documentary.
My overall thought process began when I was comparing and contrasting perspectives from both sides of this conflict. As an American, my limited understanding of the U.S.’s occupation in Iraq was to keep its citizens safe from an unjust government. However, I realized that the perspective from the country of Iraq itself was just as crucial to understanding this conflict as the United States. I then began to sort out all of the details in a logical order that I could present them in my paper. Since the U.S. occupation in Iraq was so multifaceted and vital in the rise of ISIL, it only made sense to me to go back to the beginning of the documentary Enemy of Enemies and piece things together from there. I started out this paper by presenting the sociocultural and religious aspects of this conflict; I looked at the fundamental differences and preexisting tensions between the Sunni and Shia denominations in Islam. Explaining how those different facets of Islam were contributing to strife existing in Iraq before the American occupation was vital. Those denominations were broken down into subcategories and they were presented to explain what forms of Islam were more commonly associated with terrorist groups within the country before the U.S. occupation. The cause and effect of the U.S. occupation was then explained. This included how the war had become against anti-American and anti-Westernized sentiment, as well as why the war may have become this way from the Iraqi perspective and government involvement from within the country. Things happened on both sides during this occupation; the purpose of this paper is not to ‘blame’ one side over the other, but rather present the facts that both sides may be at fault to some degree. I incorporated the theme of accountability and humanitarianism when looking for outside, Westernized sources and these themes were tied in very strongly with the current Syria and Syrian refugee displacement and what the U.S.’s role should be in this conflict. Westernized humanitarianism along with the notion of accountability for actions help explain how the U.S. occupation in Iraq may have contributed to the Syrian civil war and consequential refugee crisis. Overall, I tried to present the facts in neutral manner, while informing this paper with my values that I believe very strongly in accountability for actions as a step towards moving forward.
Review: ‘Enemy of Enemies’
To begin, I do not understand whose fault it was objectively when looking at this conflict. That being said, I think Al Jazeera has done a fantastic job putting together this documentary, with enough time to hear both sides of the story, both from Mowaffak al Rubaie, Iraq’s former national security advisor and Ali Khedery, special adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authorityin Iraq (‘Enemy of Enemies’). When I look at this conflict, I see how multi-faceted it was, with both countries contributing to it in some way. From what I understand, there are two main religious affiliations in Iraq: the Shia and Sunni. Shi’ism and Sunnism are both forms of Islam; Shi’ism being based on the interpretation of the Qur’an that the religious leader must have a direct family lineage descended from the prophet Muhammad, whereas Sunnism does not believe in that interpretation. There are also slight nuances between the two forms that create tension and strife between both denominations in the country. In class, we learned that Iraq is composed of about 20-25% Sunni and 65-70% Shia.
In the film ‘Enemy of Enemies’ we were introduced to the history behind the internal conflict in Iraq, as well as a more objective lens of what happened once the U.S. got involved. We learned from Rubaie that there had been “rising attacks in Iraq” and that “the response of the U.S. was mainly denial” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). He explained that within the denominations of Shia and Sunni, there exist multiple subcategories. He talked about how the Ba’ ath party was affiliated with Saddam Hussein’s and Assad’s terrorist army, and the Salafist party was a conservative orthodox movement. Both of these parties were Sunni. There were also the
jihadists, or radical Islamists, who wished to see the literal interpretation of the Qua’-ran further a society that was Islamic and not Westernized. He mentioned how the Ba’athist, Salafist and jihadist groups had:
"started to rebel. The Americans had been banning Ba’athist in order to settle
political scores. The Americans were starting to debathafize…this was a fascist,
brutal, dictatorship by the socialist party. The Americans were aware this was
happening. This led to an increase in the insurgency because of military
displacement. The minority group was losing power and status along with a lack
of reconciliation and a loss of personal dignity. This is a great motivating factor
in in the Arab world. The Ba’athists then formed an alliance with the Salafist
jihadists….this became an unholy alliance between Ba’athism and Salafism.
These two groups were aligned with a temporary alliance that led to a well-
planned, executed, and highly political act with a group behind it" (Rubaie,
‘Enemy of Enemies’).
Moffawak asserted that “the U.S. invasion of Iraq led to 2 insurgencies. It wasn’t the
attacks, but the uprisings of the insurgency [from Saddam to Zakowi]” (Rubaie, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). This led the Al-Qaeda party led by Saddam Hussein becoming more prominent as the original anti-American sentiments under Saddam were “revolutionized under Zakowi…he added a sectarian element, (an anti-Shia element, so jihadists would work)” (Rubaie, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). Eventually, Zarqawi became the “poster boy of the beheadings and bombings in Iraq” (Rubaie, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). The media from the U.S. focused on the individual and picked up on terrorism. Khedery mentioned the “lack of government response from inside the country” (Khedery, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). This led to a civil war in Iraq. Al-Queda was now “fighting insurgency and secular war” (Rubaie, ‘Enemy of Enemies’).
This war threatened President Bush, who wanted to bring democracy to Iraq. So in
2007, over twenty thousand American troops went to Iraq to help put down secretarianism and keep citizens safe. Yet, during that time, Baghdadi, (Zarqawi’s replacement) put the Sunni on payroll to help put down Al-Qaeda. Now, the “U.S. was fighting beside Al-Qaeda – affiliated groups (Sunni tribes) to put down Al-Qaeda…” (‘Enemy of Enemies’).
At the end of 2007, almost one hundred thousand Iraqis had died. The Americans didn’t know who to trust, so they utilized Camp Bucca, a military detainee camp. These were prisoners that came from camp Abu Ghraib, which was an Iraqi prison in a “constant state of war” (Khedery, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). Contrary to what Americans believed Camp Bucca would do for its prisoners, by reintegrating them into society, “it was really a place where jihadists trained and taught” (Rubaie, ‘Enemy of Enemies’). The U.S. knew that radicalization was going on in Bucca. This was influenced by Abu Ghraib and prisoners, because they had been associated with Saddam and 70% were Sunnis. As Khedery said, this led to a “toxic brew of hardcore jihadists and some who had done anything and an incubator for radicalization” (‘Enemy of Enemies).
Khedery asserted that the U.S. was “taking efforts to prevent it, but what are you going to do with thirty thousand people? We can’t put them all in solitary confinement” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). To which Rubaie “does not agree…Americans are short-sighted and can’t see beyond their nose. The ISIS leaders came from Camp Bucca” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). Yet Khedery asserts that “Iraq is the people’s government and country…Why didn’t Iraq set up better facilities?” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). Rubaie countered with “we were occupied at the request of the Iraqi government” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). He then went on to say that “the Americans have changed their mind; they aren’t working with major Iraqis … they should have left by the end of 2007. .. The longer Americans stayed in the country, the more mistakes they committed” (‘Enemy of Enemies’). At the end of the film, Rubaie and Khedery both agreed that “a lot of things that happened during the occupation led to ISIS and what we have today” (‘Enemy of Enemies’).
This whole argument reminds me of many things when looking at the Mingst textbook. I’m most reminded of human rights, particularly how states fulfill these roles as both protectors and abusers of human rights. On pages 356-361 of the textbook, we see how the book says this to explain how states like to protect human rights, (such as in the case of Bush entering Iraq to spread democracy internationally):
"Many liberal democratic states have based human rights practices on first-
generation political and civil liberties. The constitutions of the United States and
many European democracies give pride of place to freedom of speech, freedom of
religion, and due process. And those same states have taken those domestic
provisions and tried to internationalize them. That is, it had become part of their
foreign policy agenda to support similar provisions in newly emerging states and
states in transition. U.S. support for such initiatives can be seen in both Iraq and
Afghanistan, where specific human rights guarantees were written into the new
constitutions" (Mingst 357).
What I gained from both the textbook and our discussions in class was that the U.S. primarily entered Iraq on the basis of protection from an undesirable government, as well as some self-interest, and even that we see ourselves as this world police or world protector of human rights violations. Yet as Mowaffak said in the film, our country caused a lot of damage in the increase of the Al Qaeda insurgency, particularly with our running of Camp Bucca. He asserts that when our country started “deBathafizing” Iraq, that displaced the minority Sunnis, helping “incubate” an environment for terrorist cells and organizations to arise (Rubaie & Khedery, ‘Enemy of Enemies’ ). Of course, we as a country didn’t believe this at the time; we thought we were protecting Iraq from human rights abuses. When did that become our job and business, though? Is it safer for the globe if Western countries (such as the United States) promote liberalism and the democratic government as the ‘best’ form of governance, or are we interfering and creating more problems where we don’t belong?
I went onto the Duck of Minerva website to find relevance between this issue and what is going on in the rest of the world today. ISIS is extremely relevant in the media here, especially after the terrorist attacks in France, Beirut, Syria, Iran, and other countries around the globe. I found one of the first articles on this website to talk about politics, compassion and humanitarianism as it relates to the attack on Paris. To understand this context, we have to know that Syria also became a target for ISIL as they were used as base camp country, and then innocent citizens were targeted by Syria’s own government, creating a civil war and influx of refugees that are leaving today. There is worry on the American side that ISIS could be infiltrating refugees leaving Syria, making it more accessible for them to target other countries around the globe. As formerly mentioned however, is it the United State’s responsibility to protect these people and shelter them, particularly if it was some of our unintended actions that displaced them in the first place? Where is the balance between accountability, compassion, and the need to self-preserve?
The article written by Maryam Deloffre talks about how in light of the attacks on Paris, President Obama has called for “universal compassion … the emphasis on “all of humanity” and “universal values” recalls the language of humanitarianism, enshrined in the foundational documents of the United Nations (UN) including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related covenants” (Deloffre). Deloffree then goes on to say that:
"In the aftermath of the attacks, humanitarian values have been threatened by
political posturing by the extreme right Front National party in France and by
Republican (and one Democrat) governors and presidential hopefuls in the United
States who are calling for either a suspension of Syrian refugee resettlement
programs in the United States or limiting resettlement to only Christian refugees"
Deloffre continues to bring our attention to the changes brought about by the way that humanity and humanitarianism is viewed in the West in particular. ‘Humanity’ used to encompass white, Christian, male characteristics, but now it has been more broadly defined to include all people. “Today, this universal definition of humanity informs humanitarianism and means that human beings intrinsically have ethical obligations to one another—obligations that kinship, nationality, and religion and derive solely from our shared humanity. We identify with distant strangers because we see ourselves in them…” (Deloffre). Since we see ourselves in our fellow neighbor, should we turn away Syrian refugees who are fleeing persecution in their own country? Should the U.S. fulfill its ‘humanitarian’ obligation to be accountable for its actions, both domestic and overseas? Is the United States’ role in this world to spread democratic liberalism, or is it to be ‘humanitarian’ and respond where we can, be responsible for what we can, and not try to use our power in a way that displaces others?
Deloffre argues that we as a country need to heavily consider bringing Syrian refugees in the United States, and not turning them away for fear of not preserving our “Christian” values (Deloffre). She sums up her argument in this way: “Scapegoating refugees creates divisions and disunity that recalls an outdated mode of humanitarianism dripping with racism and xenophobia (and ironically similar to the rhetoric of Daesh). This is a battle of ideas, a battle of humanitarianisms, but not a battle of the West vs. the rest because sadly, many in the West are on the wrong side” (Deloffre). I agree full heartedly. We as America need to know what our line is; where our boundaries go from overstepping and ‘saving’ (which inadvertently creates more problems) to when we need to get involved and be accountable. I think in this instance, as Deloffre has put it, letting Syrian refugees into our country is the humanitarian thing to do.
Deloffre, Maryam Z. "Playing Politics with Compassion after the Paris Attacks (and Why Humanitarianism Is in Trouble) | Duck of Minerva." Duck of Minerva. Duck of Minerva, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.<http://duckofminerva.com/2015/11/playing-politics-
"Enemy of Enemies: The Rise of ISIL." - Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2015/10/enemy-
Mingst, Karen A., and Ivan M. Arreguin - Toft. "Human Rights." Essentials of International Relations. 6th Edition ed. Boston: W.W. Norton, 2015. Print.
Hannah Harms is a sophomore at Luther College majoring in Social Work with a concentration in Art. She is originally from Waverly, Iowa. Hannah enjoys learning about different perspectives and finding common ground in the patterns of human behavior presented in international relations theories. She has not studied abroad yet while at Luther, but will be studying in the Twin Cities Metro area for her Social Work class experience. She is interested in micro-level work with individuals, groups and families who have undergone trauma or crisis, and sees the benefits of using expressive means such as art to help integrate the healing process.
Sharing student assignments that should reach more people than just me.