A colonel in the Iraqi army warned in 2007 that a democratic political system couldn’t immediately take hold in Iraq.
Marine First Lt. Wesley Grey, the current team leader of asset management fund Alpha Architect, was part of a Military Transition Team in Anbar province for eight months in 2006. He trained Iraq’s army alongside an Iraqi commander, Colonel Abass.
Grey recorded his experiences and first-hand observations of the war in his book “Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army.”
Three weeks after ISIS swept through northern and western Iraq — bringing much of the country under the control of a jihadist organisation too extreme for Al Qaeda even — one passage from the books seems particularly prescient.
In the following passage, Colonel Abass, an Iraqi military commander with 24 years experience, explains to Grey the inherent difficulties of rapidly overhauling an entire country’s political order:
“The Iraqi people have not known democracy ever. How can we just let them have it? I see democracy and freedom as vaccinations. If you give someone vaccines who has never had any exposure whatsoever, the proposed medicine that is meant to help them, will actually kill them. A better method would be to give this medicine slowly and in small chunks so the people could adapt to it. Over time the vaccine would be much more effective…
The freedom Americans have granted Iraqis is not the same freedom Americans have. Americans are not free like Iraqis are free: American people cannot kill their neighbour for stealing their goat; they cannot shoot an enemy because of a tribal feud; they cannot kill their daughter for ruining the honour of her family; Americans do not have our freedom. They are simply free to operate in a highly constrained civilized system. The freedom granted to Iraqis is the truest of freedoms. This is the type of freedom that allows everyone to do anything they want without any repercussion. In one word, anarchy. This is the only true freedom. Anarchy is what America has granted Iraq.”
Abass predicted in 2006 that this anarchy would lead to Iraq a civil war resembling the sectarian turmoil that engulfed Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. During that war, Shiites, Christians, Sunnis, and Druze fought a multi-sided conflict that left approximately 144,000 people dead.
Iraq may be following this model. Violence is spreading, and the the political process is in a state of terminal dysfunction. Iraq’s parliament has failed to reach a deal on a new government, prompting a further political crisis. Much of western Iraq has also been wrenched from the central government’s hands, with Sunni ISIS declaring the territory “the Islamic State.”