IRAQ was a curiously complicated country; one uses the past tense because of the turmoil the country is going through and the likelihood that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militia will ensure its break-up.
The tragedy that is unfolding had its genesis in the period after World War I when Britain and France sliced and diced up the Middle East, often at right angles, to satisfy imperial ambitions and reward those who had supported them during the conflict.
In the process, many tribes found themselves forced to join countries which were really not attuned to their beliefs or their culture. The classic example is the people who lived in the Shouf Mountains and the Bekaa Valley, areas which today are part of Lebanon.
These people would have been much more at home in Syria but pressure on France by the Maronites for more land mass and population – these are always seen as guarantees against an invasion by a neighbour – resulted in them being made part of Lebanon.
When so many tribes which hate each other are crammed close to each other in a country, only a strongman, a dictator, can prevent civil war breaking out. Saddam Hussein performed this role admirably; and, apart from being brutal to his enemies and eliminating them clinically, he looked after his people pretty well. There was 95 per cent literacy in Iraq, every child was immunised, everybody had potable water, religious minorities were not harassed and the country was prosperous due to its oil wealth.
Once the Americans started lusting after the oil in Iraq, and invaded in 2003 under false pretenses, they destroyed the entire structure of government and all the strictures that Saddam had imposed. Every tribal leader could now say what he wanted and act it out too. All the old hostilities and hatred had a chance of free expression.
It is, thus, not surprising that various factions have taken the chance to express themselves and try to rule over the rest. The Shias have taken power and form the government which is now looking very shaky. Various other groups have indulged in violence to settle old scores.
And now, the grand encore, the ISIL is slowly taking over town by town and is close to Baghdad. ISIL is the rump of the Al Qaida movement in Iraq which was reduced greatly due to attacks by American forces who acted on intelligence provided by Sunni groups opposed to it. The rump moved into Syria and has been rejuvenated by the conflict in that country. Now it has moved back into Iraq.
No matter where the Americans put their fingers and try to meddle, they create nothing but a mess.