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The Rise of ISIS Predates the Fall of Saddam Hussein


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rise-isis-predates-fall-saddam-husseinNational Review/The Corner:

David French

February 15, 2016


The New York Times has published a necessary corrective to those who view the invasion of Iraq as essentially Year Zero in the Middle East — the origin point for all the calamities that followed. Have you heard that ISIS is George Bush’s fault? Think again. Writing in the Times, Kyle Orton properly attributes the rise of ISIS in Iraq to cultural and religious forces that long pre-dated the American invasion of Iraq. It turns out that Iraq was no more immune to increased radicalization than any other Middle Eastern state, and Saddam reacted in part by embracing the new religiosity:



In a few tactical instances during the 1980s, Mr. Hussein allied with Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, to destabilize his regional rival in Syria, but these were limited, plausibly deniable links. In 1986, however, the Pan-Arab Command, the Baath Party’s top ideological institution, formally reoriented Iraq’s foreign policy toward an alliance with Islamists. This was the first clear deviation from secular Baathism.


The shift was accompanied by a domestic “Islamization,” with regime media dropping references to a “secular state” and describing the war against Iran as a “jihad.” The changes accelerated after 1989 when Michel Aflaq, the Christian founder of the Baath Party, died, and Mr. Hussein claimed that Mr. Aflaq had converted to Islam. Alive, Mr. Aflaq was a bulwark against Islamization; as a dead convert, he could — and did — baptize a new direction.





It’s difficult to imagine that the Middle East would actually be better off if one of its most powerful nations had been allowed to continue down the path of “Baathi-Salafism” that Orton describes. And it’s just wrong to believe that the American invasion of Iraq is the triggering event for the savage jihad that it tearing the region apart (the Arab Spring has been far more destabilizing than the Iraq War). Jihad springs out of Islam itself, and the latest wave of jihad springs from cultural, political, and social forces far beyond American control. We are merely left to do our best to defend our nation, control the jihadist outbreak, and defeat its armies — a staggering challenge made far more challenging by domestic critics who refuse to understand the nature of the enemy we face.

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