The origins of ISIS/Daesh have been a central topic on this blog, as they have been in debates over the last two years since the group really shocked the world. There has been no shortage of half-baked ideas:
Republicans in the USA think ISIS emerged in 2011 after Obama withdrew American troops. A serious debate can be had about whether this was the right time to withdraw troops or not, but little explanation other than implied indefinite occupation is proposed as an alternative. Iraqis clearly wouldn’t accept indefinite occupation, and ISIS already existed, so the argument falls apart pretty quickly.
Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani seem to think ISIS exists because of Iraqi oil, and that if the USA seized the oil in Iraq, ISIS could have been avoided.
Others like Jay Sekulow made empty political claims tying Hamas in Palestine to ISIS, insisting they’re one and the same, despite any supporting evidence and indeed a lot of evidence to the contrary.
On the crazier fringe, there are claims that ISIS is a creation of the CIA and Mossad.
David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and general in American armed forces came out recently to correct Trump, instead arguing that it was Nuri al-Maliki’s fault for alienating Iraqi Sunnis under his rule in the years after the USA overthrew Saddam Hussein. This, more than the others, has a real grain of truth to it. The problem is, well General Petraeus, how did Nuri al-Maliki come to power exactly?
By ignoring the 2003 American invasion, which all sober analysts and experts agree to be the sine qua non for the emergence of ISIS, Petraeus scores cheap political points and assuages Republican voters and many Democrats who championed the war but still struggle to acknowledge the volume of the mistake that was made- indeed the crime that was committed. The factor Petraeus points to- Maliki’s corrupt and vindictive rule from 2006 until 2014- certainly antagonized Iraqi Sunnis and exacerbated sectarian tensions but solid historical works shows that the beginnings of ISIS already existed at this time. Readers can check these well-written books on the subject of ISIS here or here or here. One certainly cannot say that Iraqi leaders have done nothing wrong and that outside forces did everything blameworthy, but neither can one seriously ignore the brutal failed invasion and the mind-numbing waves of violence it unleashed.
Finally, I previously gave a public talk at Lund University in Sweden sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies about what I called the “conditions of possibility” for the emergence of ISIS, going back to WWII to trace changing political spheres, economic trends, and rising salafi-jihadism to show that many of these trends started long before 2003, but that the American invasion ripped open the fabric of state and society to allow ISIS to grow and ultimately seize territory. The outbreak of war in Syria next door was arguably the key factor, out of Iraq or America’s control, that helped the group seize territory and grow after 2011.
Click here to see the talk and click on “DEL 2” once the link opens. Sometimes it is slow to load but be patient:)