The Age of Jihad | Patrick Cockburn

Summary of: The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East
By: Patrick Cockburn


In ‘The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East’, Patrick Cockburn takes an in-depth look at the history and events leading to the rise of ISIS and the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Exploring decisions such as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the consequences of the Arab Spring, and the complexities of regional politics, Cockburn presents a sobering overview of the current state of affairs in the region. Readers can expect to gain insights into the failure of Western policy and the roots of violence in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: A Fragile Peace

After the tragic events of 9/11, the United States focused on retreating Arab enemies in Northeast Afghanistan. In a four-year civil war that led up to Taliban rule in 1996, Kabul suffered the loss of 100,000 lives. With the help of the United States’ air support, the Northern Alliance managed to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001. The Northern Alliance was a group of politically skilled but militarily weak anti-Taliban warlords. Afghanistan finally seemed to offer a secure future to its people.

The Unforeseen Consequences of the Invasion of Iraq

The decision of the US to invade Iraq in 2003 led to dire consequences that were not anticipated by US policymakers. A misreading of Baathists, who were mostly trained bureaucrats without strong Saddam Hussein loyalties, contributed to the poor outcome of the war. In addition, the effect of UN sanctions on Iraq following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was underestimated. The sanctions led to a collapse of the country’s infrastructure, with health services and electricity functioning in only limited amounts. The invasion led to organized resistance and violence, with suicide bombings, looting, and significant damage to US soldiers. The outcome of the US-led invasion undid the previously stable relationships among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia. Ultimately, the invasion of Iraq resulted in a widespread breakdown of security and conflicts that engulfed the Middle East and North Africa.

The Complexities of the Iraq War

The Iraq War was plagued by sectarian violence and a lack of understanding by American leaders. The bombing of the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra was a clear manifestation of a long-standing sectarian conflict. Many of the jobless Sunnis who struggled against their Shia neighbors were dismissed as part of the opposition. The US surge, which involved 30,000 additional soldiers, was considered a success, and talk of a gradual withdrawal began. However, negotiations for a comprehensive security agreement between the US and Iraq were unsuccessful, and Iran began to fill the power vacuum left behind. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, even removed hundreds of Sunni candidates from the ballot ahead of legislative elections. The war had lasting effects on Iraq’s bureaucracy, with seven million employees and salaries costing $4 billion per month. Despite the conflict and turmoil, people continued to receive their salaries.

The US Occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq

After the Taliban resurfaced, the US struggled in Afghanistan. The surge, initially planned for success, proved futile, and the US found no peace partner in the Middle East. Corruption, economic downfall, and unsatisfactory governance contributed to the military crisis. The 30,000 troops sent to Afghanistan were met with skepticism. A decade-long struggle, it paralleled the Soviet army’s situation in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Ultimately, the US learned that military victories do not ensure successful occupations, and it lacked reliable partners in the Middle East to achieve peace and democracy.

The Failure of NATO in Libya

The book explores the Arab Spring social uprising that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and Libya. It highlights the NATO’s poorly crafted military campaign in Libya and the strategic mistakes made, which made the situation worse and vulnerable. By the end of 2014, the Libyan civil war had become a calamity, like the situation in Iraq and Syria, causing a sense of revisiting colonialism.

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