American-led regime change operations aren’t known for going as planned. In Afghanistan, which the US invaded in part to remove the Taliban from power, the group remains a formidable military force. Iraq is no different, argues US Army Major Danny Sjursen, a strategist and former history instructor at the US Military Academy West Point who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He joined Radio Sputnik’s Fault Lines to discuss the pitfalls of America’s regime change policy in Iraq.Sjursen spoke to Fault Lines in an unofficial capacity and his opinions do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the Army.
Sjursen spoke to Fault Lines in an unofficial capacity and his opinions do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the Army.
(Interview begins at 94:54)
Sjursen served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, working in East Baghdad where he said his primary enemy was the Mahdi Army, “which was Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia,” he said.
“Moqtada al-Sadr, who is an anti-American former warlord and militia leader, has rebranded himself in 2018 as a reformist and a nationalist and a politician rather than a warlord,” Sjursen told Fault Lines hosts Lee Stranahan and Garland Nixon.
On May 12, Iraq held parliamentary elections. In the country, the legislature elects the president and prime minister, who in turn forms the government. Iraq’s Alliance toward Reforms party, or Saairun, a coalition of mostly communists and the Sadrist Movement — that is, supporters of al-Sadr — won 54 seats, a plurality of the legislature.
“I saw this, I started to ask myself the question: ‘What exactly did my men die for? What exactly was I fighting for if the output, you know, 15 years after our invasion of Iraq, is that a militia leader with American blood on his hands — thousand of Americans dead on his hands — has now won political elections; democratic ones in Iraq?'” Sjursen lamented.
“It made me angry. I started to wonder, ‘maybe there’s a broader problem with trying to impose your values on another country. Maybe there’s a broader problem when you topple a dictatorship or you topple a government, because you never really know what comes next,'” he told Fault Lines.
“And sometimes the unintended consequences of regime change are far worse than leaving someone in power,” he observed.
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq, a $2.4 trillion boondoggle that cost the lives of nearly 4,500 US service members, was “a tragedy for the United States,” the major said.
“It was an absolutely unabashed failure,” he added. “But it, more importantly, it was an absolute tragedy for the Iraqi people,” he said. Some 460,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to have died for reasons associated to the war.
“And life for many [Iraqis] actually deteriorated after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government,” Sjursen told Fault Lines. “Not because Saddam was a good guy — he was not, he was a brutal dictator — but minorities [including] Christians, Sunnis [and] Kurds in some cases actually had more rights and more security than they did after the invasion.”
The major chalks it up to the power vacuum created by a successful regime change, which in Iraq was largely blamed for the spawn of Daesh. Some of the group’s leaders actually met one another inside a US prison called Camp Bucca.
“This is what happens when you invade a country and topple a tyrant: the entire governing structure breaks down, and you cannot predict what will rise like a phoenix out of the democratic experiment,” Sjursen said. “There is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority. Sometimes, sociopaths, militia leaders and strongmen gather power from the chaos. And I think we’ve largely seen that in what has really been an on-and-off Iraqi civil war that has continued now for 15 years.”