(photo credit: Courtesy)
The First Gulf War changed the very dynamic of relations between a superpower
and a regional country – and changed the balance of power in the region as a
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 created reactions that were
unexpected by Baghdad: Sanctions and all-out war were unleashed by the US, along
with a coalition of 30 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
The sanctions – which lasted until the demise of the Ba’ath regime
in 2003 – seriously weakened Iraq’s economy, and with it, the edifice of the
The war set into motion the Kurdish and Shi’ite uprisings, which
broke out immediately following fighting between the coalition forces and the
The importance of these uprisings were that they proved the
population had overcome their fear of Saddam Hussein, served as a rehearsal for
the deep political transformations in post- Saddam Iraq and brought about deeper
American involvement in Iraqi affairs. (This point was illustrated by the
establishment of two no-fly zones for the Iraqi air force, in the Kurdish north
and the Shi’ite south.) American involvement culminated in the 2003 war, which
ended with the collapse of the Ba’ath regime – creating the most revolutionary
changes ever to occur in Iraq.
For the first time since the advent of
Islam there 1,400 years earlier, the Shi’ites became rulers of the
The Sunnis, who had a monopoly on power for hundreds of years,
The centralist state system was altered into a federative
arrangement, with the Kurdish region developing into a quasi-state of its own.
At the same time, the Kurds became kingmakers in Baghdad.
system also underwent a dramatic change from a dictatorship to a budding
BUT THE abrupt shift imposed on the society had its price in
the Arab part of Iraq. Indeed, years of upheavals, civil strife between Sunnis
and Shi’ites, ongoing acts of terror by al-Qaida and disenfranchised Sunni
Islamist groups and severe destruction of the infrastructure
Meanwhile, the Kurdish region flourished in an unprecedented
The upheavals in the foreign arena are no less dramatic: The two
Gulf Wars were an unprecedented event in the history of the region, particularly
After World War I, no outside power occupied a country in the
Middle East, or remained in it, for nearly a decade – almost like the British
mandate in the early years of the Iraqi state.
American presence in Iraq reduced the US’s deterrence – as exemplified by the
Iranian challenges to both the Americans and the region as a
Iraq’s own external posture also underwent a revolution: From a
state which constituted a permanent threat to its neighbors by launching wars,
it became threatened by war. All its neighbors are trying to fill the vacuum, or
influence the Iraqi agenda.
The most worrying development from the
region’s point of view was Iran’s deep penetration into Iraq – and the fact that
Baghdad no longer constituted a balance to Teheran.
Arab world has long shied away from Baghdad because it was being headed by the
Shi’ite-Kurdish coalition. Being enmeshed with its own domestic problems, Iraq
has failed to develop a clear independent foreign policy of its
Regarding Israel, many people here welcomed the collapse of the
Ba’ath state, whose demise removed a potential threat. However, ultimately the
impact of this development was not positive: The changing strategic map turned
Iran into the hegemon without Iraq to balance it.
deep penetration in Iraq – together with the alliance with Syria and strong
support for Hizbullah – have proved to be a more severe challenge than the
weakened Ba’ath regime in its final years.
In the end, the two Gulf Wars
forever altered the Iraqi state, the strategic map of the region and the
involvement of the US in Iraqi affairs, which was almost nonexistent
before.The writer is a Dayan Center senior fellow and a lecturer at the
Department of Middle Eastern History of Tel Aviv University.