Monday, January 13, 2014

A House Divided: Boiling Tensions


The United States had officially ended the War on Terror on October 20, 2014. Much fanfare surrounded the last few soldiers to return home from Afghanistan, which President Obama visited at Arlington, Virginia. It seemed like an era had ended, for many in the younger generation never knew a time without war. High school seniors, even, could hardly recall the events that devastated New York City and sparked a conflict which lasted for more than a decade. With these soldiers and their families flanking him, President Obama addressed the nation.

It was a moment of relief and reflection for the nation. The president and his party gained a boost in the polls, which was critical ahead of the midterm elections. However, the work of the United States in trying to prop up new, democratic systems in the Middle East was already showing signs of failure. The city of Fallujah, Iraq, the sight of a major battle that killed a number of Americans who fought to gain the city, was taken back by Al-Qaeda in late 2013. Continuing into 2014, Al-Qaeda saw more advances in Iraq as Sunni Arabs and Kurds continued to oppose the Shia government in Baghdad. The city of Mosul, in the Kurdish northern area of Iraq, became the sight of a massive protest staged by Kurds, who maintained that the government in Baghdad did not represent their interests and was content with abandoning them to incursions by Al-Qaeda. The month of January 2015 saw massive government crackdown on these protests, which prompted a nationwide surge in sectarian violence.

At this period in time, Syria had been, for years, wracked by the horrors of civil war. President Assad had refused to step down, and managed to maintain some of his power. A number of different rebel groups were fighting to overtake him, with some periodically fighting against each other. The international community came close to intervention in 2013, with the unveil of evidence that claimed Assad had used chemical weapons. President Obama claimed that this was a major “red line,” but when the UK Parliament made a surprising motion by voting against intervention, Obama threw the question to Congress who also voted down intervention. By 2014’s close, things were looking up for the rebels: Assad’s forces had diminished significantly, and the various rebel groups had mostly stopped fighting. When it became clear that Assad had unleashed a final round of chemical weapons around various rebel held cities, which forced many refugees north into Turkey. The Turkish government was scrambling to provide resources for all of these refugees, but it simply was not enough. To make matters worse, they were experiencing an influx of Kurdish refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, which prompted greater tensions with the minorities in the majority Kurdish portion of Turkey.

The Turkish government knew that this had to be the final straw, and they spoke as a member of NATO to get all aligned countries to push Assad out of power once and for all. Again, NATO was very reluctant to get involved, but Turkey knew something had to be done regardless of what their decision. On January 15, 2015, a squadron from the Turkish Air Force flew bombing runs over Assad targets in the north of Syria after an announcement from PM Erdogan that the recent actions by Assad were “unacceptable” and that they would be met with “significant force.” Assad fully mobilized whatever forces he had left, but with the Turkish Air Force attacking from the skies and an embattled but furious rebel group storming the main Assad compound. The international community was taken aback by sudden action on the part of Turkey, and many people were concerned that personal desires for Erdogan were being placed ahead of the interests of the Syrian people. Few can deny, however, that the Turkish intervention was the last nail in the coffin for the conflict. The Second Battle of Damascus lasted for a week, and at its conclusion, the vast majority of Assad's troops had defected or fled, but Assad himself had fled Damascus. It was decided that a UN transitional government was going to be established for at least 6 months so that the Second Republic of Syria could be set up and free elections held. Just as Syria was overcoming its chronic pains, Iraq was experiencing a severe bout of its own.

President Murkowski made it clear in her campaign for president that she did not want to become entangled in another Middle Eastern conflict unless it had a direct affect on the US’ national security. With the US mostly withdrawn from the conflicts in the region, they felt that there was going to be little to worry about. After seeing the deteriorating situation in Iraq, a growing contingent of Americans began to call the War on Terror a failure and one that should have not been started. They were content to let it be, but that was not to be.

On March 28, 2017, a small contingent of Kurds were staging a protest in the city of Kirkuk, asking the government to stop neglecting their needs and to protect them from the recent ambushes by Al-Qaeda in that region. It was merely a peaceful protest, and more Kurds started to gather as the day went on. This was accompanied by more Iraqi military showing up in the city, and keeping a close eye on the protests. An unknown protester exclaimed "the government does not care about protecting peaceful people from violence, but it will protect violence from peaceful people!" The military personnel surrounding the protesters were clearly perturbed by the statement. More angry chants came out of the marching crowd until another shouted "down with the Iraqi government, we must make it anew!" A disgruntled army official fired at the man, which prompted some in the peaceful crowd to panic and flee, and others to grow angry. In a scene reminiscent of the Boston Massacre, stones and other objects were thrown at the troops as they began to fire wholesale at the crowd. Even more people began to flee, and the military pursued the quickly dispersing crowd. For the next two hours chaos reigned as civilians and militants fell in what became known as the Kirkuk Massacre.

The international community quickly condemned the acts of the Iraqi military. President Murkowski stated that "the militant attitude that the government has towards some of its constituents is disheartening, and it is an act which will have consequences if it is to continue." When asked if a second Iraq war was possible, she merely responded by stating "war will be avoided unless there is a direct impact on our national security." In response to this strong disapproval, the Iraqi government officials responded by stating that they "will not let the interests of others impact their national security." More troops were dispatched to the north of Iraq in order to keep the peace, which made some of the international outcry stronger.

Many proposed that Iraq needs to implement a system of representation like Syria, where each sect of the population has a fixed number of seats in the legislature proportional to their population. Exacerbating the situation was talks between the Syrian and Turkish government to put pressure on Iraq to change, which many people presumed dangerous with Erdogan still at the wheel in Turkey. Within a week Iraq was fully mobilized, bracing itself for an invasion from the two. Alarming was the fact that a number of small isolated communities fell under the guidance and support of Al-Qaeda in order to defend themselves from a possible invasion. It seemed as if the whole of relative peace in the Middle East was going to come crashing down.

On the request of President Murkowski, Secretary of State Huntsman flew to Jordan and arranged for a meeting between government officials to diffuse the tension. Huntsman was able to get Syria and Turkey to call off their alliance in agreement that Iraq would pull its forces off of the border between the two countries. The dignitaries left the meeting knowing that there would be peace, but many people were angry that Huntsman did not make a solution that was beneficial to the Kurds and to reform the Iraqi government. It was clear that the policy of the Murkowski administration was to keep the peace, even if it did not solve some of the critical issues. Many people labeled it as a political move to maintain support among severely war weary Americans, and that she was going to end up making the situation in the Middle East worse. No matter the opinion, it was clear that the relationship between America and the Middle East was never going to be the same.

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