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Guest Post: The Real Causes of Violence in Iraq and Afghanistan

(Today's guest post is by Joseph Suh. Joseph is currently a student at the University of Utah who writes for their The Daily Utah Chronicle. He is currently in the Army ROTC program, and plans to join the U.S. Army after graduation. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Think that the West is the root cause for the most casualties with its most malevolent intentions? You aren’t alone. Scholarly studies and pundits have been tirelessly repeating the claim that the United States’ foreign policy is the underlying cause for the violence in the places it intervenes in.

The general sentiment from such arguments is that America’s violent invasion of countries is the indisputable motivation for the sanguine killing and the catastrophic violence in the aforementioned regions. Despite the convenience of such simplistic views, they don’t correlate with the facts. Let’s take, for instance, the facts about the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are thereligionofpeace.com’s statistic on killings in 2006 Iraq:

  • Iraqi civilians killed (mostly intentionally) in 2006 by the Iraqi resistance: 16,791.

  • Iraqi civilians killed (mostly accidentally) in 2006 by Americans: 225.

All of these deaths, undoubtedly, are extremely tragic and disheartening. However, a comparison of body counts is the only way to dispel the myths surrounding such a heated issue.

The common, “blame America” explanation fails to expound why the number of Muslim civilians murdered by other Muslims is so magnanimously disproportionate. Perhaps, in spite of their supposed mission statements calling for war against the West, the fact that the vast majority of targets chosen by insurgents suggest their war is against other Muslims.

In Afghanistan, this paradigm is also sadly ever-present.

According to the United Nations in a 2010 report, 75 percent of the deaths in Afghanistan are caused by the Taliban while 16 percent are caused by NATO and Afghan forces. Again, although Western forces may be contributing to the aggregate total of Islamic extremists to fight in Afghanistan, and ergo inciting more frequent skirmishes, it’s ultimately irrelevant. Simply because Western troops are present doesn’t necessitate the clash between the different sects of Islam.

Yet another example of this turbulence in Afghanistan is the repugnant and under-reported Taliban massacre of the Shi’a Hazara population in Afghanistan. This massacre took place in May 2000 and January 2001, significantly before any type of direct American intervention. This should further illuminate the core problem not as Western invasion.

In response, the counter-argument could be made that this pattern is only applicable to a particular region at particular times.

Not so. According to a 2009 study by West Point, “non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities”.

These are global, international numbers — so if these Islamic extremists were created due to Western occupation of Muslim lands, then why is it that their victims are almost unanimously adherents of the same religion?

Even though some contend, to this day, that western foreign policy is the foremost and root generator of Islamic extremist violence, their positions are undermined by the sheer facts that illuminate most of the bloodshed to be Muslim-on-Muslim, a truism which doesn’t sit well with this strain of contention.

After all, if it was due to Western intervention that’s responsible for the killing in the Near East, why is it that in Iraq after the US left, fellow Muslims are murdering each other? Why is it that before the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban were killing the innocent Hazara people? Ultimately, it may not be because of the difference of sectarian beliefs of the same religion. It may simply be power politics played by a stronger sect in order to ensure its position.

One thing is unequivocal and irrefutable, though: the core cause isn’t Western foreign policy.

seventeen comments

This is a great piece that pierces through all the smoke getting blown around by the blame America crowd. As with individuals, and other countries, most problems are internally generated and not the result of outside forces. Good job with this.


Nice spin on numbers. I didn’t realize that Cheney Koolaid was still for sale. Our young Candidate writes well and attempts to lock out some very basic realities and historical facts concerning American provocations into the internal affairs of Arab and Iranian cultures and sovereign countries with “unequivocal and irrefutable” hogwash to the countrary. Please also stop with the ridiculous labels. “Blame America Crowd” is a very poor way to attempt to stiffle dialog and factual analysis. You are smarter than that.


I have avoided commenting because we try not to steer the initial discussion, but I do have some issues with the numbers on this post too. (I’ll probably write a longer post later.)

First, most violence “by Muslims on Muslims” confuses correlation with causation. Most people in Arab countries are both Arab and Muslim. But the reason they commit violence in their own country is that violence by and large is a local phenomenon. Look up the statistics on Western terrorism, most of it is caused by non-Muslims. Same with U.S. crime rates—which is Western on Western crime if you will. Global terrorism is exceptionally rare. So that explains most of the terrorism.

Further, as I talked with Joe when we edited this post, I don’t consider any actions in Iraq or Afghanistan as terrorism. They are violence related to the instability in each of those countries. I know the State Department considers violence in Iraq and Afghanistan as terrorism, but ignores violence in other civil wars going on.

So this brings us back to the Iraq issue. As of February 2003, Iraq had virtually no deaths because of war going back to 1991. Then, in March of 2003, Iraqis started dying because of war. I think something must have happened to cause all the violence that has taken place since. So in that regard, the U.S. invasion—and especially the decision to disband the Army and de-baathification which led to a gigantic power vacuum—cause the instability that came since. Iraq would not be the cauldron of violence it has been for the last 9 years if the U.S. had not invaded. That’s just a fact. Now, the violence might be Muslim on Muslim, but the U.S. provided the instability.


Nice spin on numbers. I didn’t realize that Cheney Koolaid was still for sale.

Wait. First, you attack me on drinking “Koolaid” and then you ask me to stop with the “ridiculous labels”? Practice what you preach.

And… if you think my numbers are wrong, where are yours…?

Our young Candidate writes well and attempts to lock out some very basic realities and historical facts concerning American provocations into the internal affairs of Arab and Iranian cultures and sovereign countries with “unequivocal and irrefutable”

What? Erm, you’ve provided no evidence thus far. Assertions as far as the eye can see (in addition to some rather unsolicited personal attacks). Did you even read the article? I explicitly state that the US and Western nations may have had a hand in the explosion of sectarianism…

hogwash to the countrary. Please also stop with the ridiculous labels.

You’ve offered no alternative. You’ve provided no facts. You’ve made attempts at simple ideas with obfuscated syntax in order to appear intelligent.

I may be a lot younger than you but apparently, the more mature one.

“Blame America Crowd” is a very poor way to attempt to stiffle dialog and factual analysis.

SIGH. Go read or watch the links I provide at the beginning of the piece. This is a direct deduction from the Lancett / Chomsky.

You are smarter than that.

Can’t say the same for you.


Hi Michael,

But the reason they commit violence in their own country is that violence by and large is a local phenomenon. Look up the statistics on Western terrorism, most of it is caused by non-Muslims. Same with U.S. crime rates—which is Western on Western crime if you will. Global terrorism is exceptionally rare. So that explains most of the terrorism.

The reason why I chose “Muslim-on-Muslim” violence, as opposed to any other demographic, was to dispel the commonly-held view that the WEST is responsible for killing MUSLIMS. Isn’t an indirect ramification of this the reason you see “Islamophobia” tossed around (a bit too casually, IMHO) in the States?

I attempted to refute this (incidentally Muslim-on-Muslim, which implies it’s not “Western-on-Muslim”, the key point I was driving at) by providing statistics on the violence in the region where the US invaded.

I see your point about the confusion about correlation and causation, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

They are violence related to the instability in each of those countries. I know the State Department considers violence in Iraq and Afghanistan as terrorism, but ignores violence in other civil wars going on.

Not sure what you mean here. Are you referring to the violence between Muslim sects in Iraq and Afghanistan or the violence perpetrated by Islamists on Western troops…?

So this brings us back to the Iraq issue. As of February 2003, Iraq had virtually no deaths because of war going back to 1991.

Because Saddam Hussein had the entire country on lockdown. I would recommend Kanan Makiya’s Republic of Fear not only for the crimes of Saddam Hussein, but also how his iron grip on the country was reminiscent of 1930s totalitarianism (he actually shows a casual link between the two, doesn’t just assert it).

e.g. Under Hitler, Germany was practically crime-free. Wouldn’t you be able to apply the same logic to the streets of Iraq pre-2003 (so, if Saddam Hussein wasn’t in power, there would’ve been deaths)?

So in that regard, the U.S. invasion—and especially the decision to disband the Army and de-baathification which led to a gigantic power vacuum—cause the instability that came since.

Agreed.

Iraq would not be the cauldron of violence it has been for the last 9 years if the U.S. had not invaded. That’s just a fact. Now, the violence might be Muslim on Muslim, but the U.S. provided the instability.

Sure. But again, if the US didn’t intervene, what would’ve been the alternative scenario? How many hundred of thousands more Iraqis killed? How many more UN resolutions ignored?

Not even talking about Uday and Qusay…

And I still stick by my thesis: the core cause isn’t Western foreign policy.


Mr. Suh, Sorry to raise your blood pressure. I can only ask from my immature,stupid and obfuscated self that you consider all the historical facts of US and Arab and Iranian relations. Make it easy: start in 1953 with the coup in Iran. Investigate the timelines of the drastic need for the Gulf War and the continued billeting of American troops (women troops included) in Saudi after 1991. I suggest that you fully compare the language of the UN resolutions, the US Senate resolutions, the history of what the UN weapons inspectors found and didn’t find in Iraq/Hans Blix’ report to the Security Council, and the innuendo, fabrications and exaggerations that the Bush Jr. Administration officials crammed down the American people’s throats pre March 2003 invasion. I take it you were alive but not aware of what transpired 9 to 10 years ago.

Many of us lost friends and family members (myself both) during the Iraq War. I personally look to the emerging leaders of this country—including military leaders such as yourself—to make informed decisions regarding the implications of American foreign policy. We cannot forget lessons learned again (so soon after Vietnam) and march west this time into the Pacific and Asia just looking for a fight. We may both love this country, but that doesn’t mean we have to put her on a Golden Pedestal and declare her without faults. I stand by my assessment that you are a smart man. I trust you with the future well being of my country and the men and women who serve. Its not easy, but it isn’t impossible.

“The reason why I chose “Muslim-on-Muslim” violence, as opposed to any other demographic, was to dispel the commonly-held view that the WEST is responsible for killing MUSLIMS.”

That’s it in a nutshell, Joe. Good piece.

Incredible how many people claim the Americans killed 100,000 or even 1 million Iraqis, and then when pressed accept that, yeah, all right, America’s enemies actually killed them, but America is still to blame!

The jihad kills 100,000 Muslims, and the left gets angry with … the heroes who are fighting and dying to try to stop the jihad. It’s insane.

It’s all psychological displacement, by westerners who find it “racist” to blame third world Muslims for their actions. But a true non-racist would say that Iraqis are not mere animals or children. They are adults with moral agency, and if they choose to respond to American invasion by suicide bombing Shiite mosques, or by raping and beheading Christians, then that is their shame, not America’s.


Derek,

I don’t respond well to personal attacks. I don’t care much about intellectual attacks (e.g. “this idea is stupid”), but again, I don’t react well with personal attacks.

Considering all you said about Persian-Arab relations, I don’t see relevance to this article; you don’t provide a casual link between these relations and the fact that most of the violence in these regions (and elsewhere across the world) is Muslim-on-Muslim.

Yes, the coup in Iran is a blip on US foreign policy. Yes, I’m aware that Bush Administration officials played politics with the war. Etc. Questions that should be answered, but I don’t think this is the appropriate forum.

And I don’t believe I’m putting the US on a Golden Pedestal. I’m a “foreigner” myself (Korean) and I’m aware of the proxy war of ’50, among other US policy mistakes / atrocities in my native country. If anything, US foreign policy should be more personal for me than others.

I know the US has (and is, and will) do wrong — but what nation-state doesn’t? What superpower does more good than the US? There are more questions alongside these which I’ve answered myself and trust me, they aren’t as black-and-white as you think I think they are.


“Many of us lost friends and family members (myself both) during the Iraq War. I personally look to the emerging leaders of this country—including military leaders such as yourself—to make informed decisions regarding the implications of American foreign policy. We cannot forget lessons learned again (so soon after Vietnam)”

Derek, I am sorry for your loss, but your anger should be directed at the Iraqi fighters who killed your loved ones. They are to blame, not Bush or any American.

The Iraqi fighters who killed your loved ones were a disgusting, barbaric enemy, who constantly slaughtered civilians and carried out the most disgusting war crimes.

The American troops should be very proud of having fought such an enemy.

You do sound like you are promoting the wrong lesson from Iraq. (And Vietnam too, by the sound of it.) The fact is that the enemies of human freedom (whether communist, Islamist or other) have moral agency too, and they do not kill and oppress because the West makes them, but rather because that is their nature.


Mark, The people who shot my son were not Iraqis. As it turned out they were Arabs from outside of the country who came to fight Americans after the invasion of Iraq. I do not have any animosity for those who lost that their lives that day. They fought for their own ideals.

You haven’t a clue as to what you say is my “anger”. Your surmising about it is what I am asking you all not to do. Please understand those that are not like you. Damn it, don’t just go out and shoot them first. Listen to them and attempt to understand.

“Enemies of human freedom” is your western view of what many times ends up being nationalist movement bent on removal of foreign troops who seem to have their own agendas—such as imposing forced “democracy” and western style governmental structures.

All I ask is that we don’t advance around the globe with gun in hand attempting to mold the disparate peoples of this world in our own image.

It seems obvious to me that my pleas to you and to Joseph fall on deaf ears. I need not be lectured on pride or knowledge. I’ve been around awhile, served as a USMC officer, been to many schools, been in business, education and government and buried many friends. The world is a harse place gentlemen. Don’t make it any worse on yourselves.


Derek,

I can only imagine what you’ve been through. However, I came with the intentions not to discuss emotions and personal life, but to have a conversation about the subject at hand. I don’t discuss personal issues in forums such as these unless they’re brought up first.

Again, I am deeply sorry for your loss.


I appreciate that Joseph; butI do not solicit sympathy. I’m only using my life experiences to attempt counselling for peace. I know that you are a smart man. Use all your talents to the fullest.


Derek, I am so sorry. I have three sons myself. I cannot imagine what it is like. I did not mean to tell you how you should feel.

I am nervous to continue the debate now, but if you want to, could we back it up to a more abstract level. What I wanted to say was that when one understands the Arab fighters in Iraq – if you really read their world view and read about their actions – then you would despise them more, not less.

I read a lot of jihadist writing, and I collect reports of jihadist atrocities around the world. Did you see my list of atrocities of the Iraq jihad at the link above? (link)

Here is a sample from that page of what the Iraqi jihad does: “It executes clowns. It sadistically tortures homosexuals. It bombs football fans. It bombs crowds of children (and here). It cuts the heads off children (and here). It shoots teachers and cuts off their heads in front of terrified primary school children. It pulls Shia school children off buses and executes them. It tortures children with electric drills for having the “wrong” kind of Islam (also here). It cuts the heads off children for the crime of being Christian. It kills, rapes and tortures Mandaeans, including children, for the crime of not being Muslim. It drowns children after killing their fathers. It sets off car bombs with children in the back seat. It beheads and cooks Christian toddlers (and here). It shoots 6 year olds for having the “wrong” kind of Islam. It cuts the heads off the children of villagers. It grabs small children and uses them as cover in suicide bomb attacks. It has a retarded 13-year-old suicide bomber hold the hand of a 3-year-old girl in a suicide bomb attack. It set a 5 year old boy on fire (and here). It tried to set a 4 year old boy on fire in front of his family. It suicide bombs children’s playgrounds. It straps bombs to Down’s Syndrome women and blows them up in crowds of innocents. It even straps bombs to a Down’s Syndrome child and blows them up. It shoots a whole family of children in bed. It shoots and beheads an entire family of 6 children under 12. It tortures a 6 year old, pulling out his fingernails and teeth.”

The result of all my study is that “enemies of freedom” is not a slogan. It is literally true. They themselves declare that they despise freedom of religion, freedom of sexuality, free speech and democracy, and want to stamp out such ideas from the face of the earth. They are very open about this. Zarqawi himself stated: “We have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it … Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion [and that is] against the rule of Allah.”

You assume that learning about your enemies will reduce, not increase, the desire to see them killed. But that is not true with all enemies, and it is certainly not true with the jihad in Iraq. To understand them is to despise them. To really understand them – to understand their bigotry and hatred of Jews, Christians, gays, atheists and free women – is to wish for their destruction. Many Iraqis of course feel the same. Thousands of Iraqi police and army died fighting them. I admire them, and I admire the brave Americans who died fighting this barbaric enemy.

And finally, this evil was not summoned into place by America. Extreme Islamic religious oppression (sharia) and religious war (jihad) has been going on for 1,400 years, and has probably killed over 100 million people across the world. Its victims are both Muslim and non-Muslim. Only a pre-existing ideology can explain the cruelty of the Iraq jihad. Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan are merely recent fronts in a longer war.


Mark, Hate begets hate. I’m sorry Sir; you are full of it (hate, that is).

I don’t see the Big Boogey Man that you see. I see criminals in this world, they are everywhere, every shape, size, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. You can not hate Muslims for what a small minority do. My dream is to meet, sit, eat with, and chat for hours with the father(s) of the man (men) who were subsequently shot to pieces (literally) by the Marines with my son, after they shot him. I think there is no way for that to happen, but it remains the pinnacle of my response to losing my only son who followed my footsteps, served his country and obeyed orders. Your concept of facing the Islamic world, evidently from your writings above, is annihilation. Apologies to Joseph for not listing all reasons, but that is so wrong on so many fronts. And if you see that eradication of muslims as a requirement of official American Foreign Policy, send yourself over to the sandbox—and leave your sons home. Most people in this country want nothing to do with such philosophy.

“You can not hate Muslims for what a small minority do.”

I never said I hate all Muslims. If you are going to put words in my mouth, you need to quote me, not invent some hostile paraphrase.

“Your concept of facing the Islamic world, evidently from your writings above, is annihilation.”

I never said I want to annihilate the Islamic world. If you are going to put words in my mouth, you need to quote me, not invent some hostile paraphrase.

I have extreme sympathy for you, but your method of debate is totally dishonest and offensive.


Mark, Let’s leave the sympathy out of this. I’m sorry if you found what I stated offensive.

However, before you label me dishonest, please enlighten me as to your meaning of “jihad”. It is not “religious war” as you state, that is the western interpretation, and a very convenient one.

Derek,

I’m not sure where you get the whole “we hate Muslims” principle. There’s a clear distinction between disliking ISLAM (a philosophy) and disliking all MUSLIMS. Please don’t conflate the two.

Further, jihad could be interpreted as a inner struggle for peace. From what I’ve read and heard, the violent interpretation of jihad is as legitimate as the non-violent one.

And Derek, I will have to agree with Mark here. Would you please quote him where he stated that he wants total annihilation of the Muslim world? Where he states he hates all Muslims?

Until then, I think his point about dishonesty stands.

I see criminals in this world, they are everywhere, every shape, size, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

I don’t think you can equate those who would gladly hijack a plane full of people and have the fullest intentions to annihilate western civilization (a criminal) and those who would steal a car (a criminal). Yes, the world has criminals — but there are varying degrees to the extent of their crimes.

But let’s stop here. How is this relevant to the piece?