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Iraq War Facts
The Iraq War began in 2003 under the Bush administration. A common misconception among the Iraq War facts is that the war was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks; however, there was no evidence of Iraq’s connection with the attack. The United States intended to abolish Saddam Hussein’s regime and confiscate any weapons of mass destruction.

The war went on for eight years until President Obama officially announced that he would be withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011. However, when ISIL began taking control of Iraqi land in 2014, U.S. military advisors returned to the country to combat the spread of the Islamic State. To understand the return and current presence of the United States in Iraq, it is important to know the following Iraq War facts.

Purpose

When the U.S. began the war with Iraq in 2003, the purpose was to take down Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi government; however, the United States’ current presence in Iraq is largely due to the permanent threat of terrorism in the Middle East caused by terrorist groups such as ISIL.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a terrorist organization that follows radical Sunni Islam. It first gained global attention in 2014 with its presence in Iraq and Syria but also spread around the world to countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

ISIL initiatives were largely funded by oil revenue made on the black market. The group took control of oil fields in both Syria and Iraq and would sell this oil to fund their activities. Since then, they have lost much of their control of these oil fields to the Iraqi army and their revenue has decreased.

Troops

Although troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2014, there are still over 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq due to the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East. Interestingly, though, it was found that these numbers were not exactly accurate. Pentagon officials acknowledged only over half of the troops are actually present in Iraq — one of the most shocking Iraq war facts as a report found that the actual amount was 8,892.

This number is more than 75 percent more than originally stated. While these figures could seem high, they are relatively small when compared to the number of troops present under the Bush administration. A decade ago, the combined troop total approached 200,000.

The War

Since their return in August 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 13,300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in the area. Through the years, these airstrikes have led to the Iraqi military regaining much of its land from ISIL. Iraq’s government announced the end of the war against the Islamic State in December 2017, over three years after they first began taking control of Iraqi land.

The Islamic State has now lost most of the territory they once took control of. In a statement, the military said it “fully liberated” all of Iraq’s territory and retook full control of the border. According to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, 98 percent of territory once claimed by the jihadist group has been reclaimed.

Moving Forward

Since the victory over the Islamic State, the U.S. has announced that it will reduce the number of troops in Iraq. That being said, the United States will not fully leave Iraq despite the fact that ISIL no longer controls Iraqi land.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a statement saying, “Despite these successes, our fight is not over. Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.” This belief is largely due to the terror that has been created through attacks around the world. Today, the goal is to fight the Islamic State from spreading its influence.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Resilience Found in the Rebuilding of the Mosul University LibraryA library in Iraq is receiving the proper attention it deserves after the devastation of an occupation by the Islamic State since 2014. The rebuilding of the Mosul University library has been brought about by volunteers who have attempted to restore what is left of the library’s collection, after hundred of thousands of ancient documents were destroyed.

The Mosul University library and its contents were destroyed during two years of the Islamic State’s occupation of Mosul, in northern Iraq. Iraqi newspapers, maps, books and ancient collects were lost in the burning of the library. During the occupation, 900,000 residents were displaced and thousands of civilians killed amid the fighting.

The independent blogger Mosul Eye has since led a movement to restore what is left of the library’s collection. This has resulted in the movement to recover and donate books to the library. Many were doubtful that the library’s collection had survived, but the discovery of some 86,000 books proved otherwise. Since the discovery of the books, many have been moved to a safer location. According to Irina Bokova, the head of the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the destruction of the library “adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

The efforts of Mosul Eye and volunteers alike culminated in a reading festival that celebrated books, reading, music and poetry. For many, the festival symbolized the resilience of the Iraqi people and their culture against the threat of terrorism. The war on culture that has been posed by Islamic State has led not only to the burning of books, but shrines, statues and other culturally significant sites. However, just as the rebuilding of the Mosul University library serves as a testament, the Iraqi people have proven their resilience in the face of terror.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rates in IraqIn 2010 the poverty rate in Iraq was on the decline, showing a decrease from 23 percent to 19 percent in 2013, according to Iraq Ministry of Planning spokesperson Abdul Zahra al-Hindawi. However, the current war with the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has caused a significant number of people to flee from the northern and western parts of the country.

After the war in Iraq, the county was left decimated by poverty. Prior to the Iraq war the percentage of Iraqi people living in slums was approximately 20 percent. At the end of the Iraq war that percentage dramatically rose to 53 percent due to structural damage to many facilities and the mass displacement of civilians.

Following the crippling of its economy and infrastructure, Iraq worked to rebuild and to reduce its poverty rate, which was considered by most to be alarmingly high. However, entering the vacuum created by the withdrawal of U.S. troops emerged another enemy in the war on poverty, the Islamic State. In 2014, the poverty rate of the country resurged to 22.5 percent, almost eclipsing the progress that had previously been made.

After examining the poverty rates in Iraq, it becomes clear there are two main contributors to the rise of poverty in unison with the emergence of ISIS: the need to divert funding to fighting ISIS, an overarching lack of cashflow, and the high poverty rates within ISIS-controlled territory.

With the continued presence and aggression seen from ISIS, the Iraqi government has been forced to divert a significant portion of its funds to anti-ISIS military measures. This has hurt the Iraqi people by diverting funds that could otherwise be invested into state-run aid programs meant to further the fight against poverty.

In a uniquely contrasting situation, 99 percent of government revenue in Iraq is produced by the country’s oil sector. The oil sector only employs around 1 percent of the country’s population, however, leaving the remainder of the Iraqi economy to struggle to fill the remaining gap. Due to the sharp decline in the price of a barrel of oil, the country revenues have sharply declined, most noticeably felt by the construction industry.

The head of services and construction provincial committee Ghalib al-Zamili explained that the “fiscal deficit has led to the freezing of most of [the] infrastructure projects” in Baghdad. In total, this adds to “more than 750 infrastructure projects that have been halted.”

Territory occupied by ISIS also faces heightened levels of poverty in comparison to the rest of the country, significantly anchoring the poverty rates in Iraq. Poverty rates in regions controlled by ISIS are reported to be 41 percent in comparison to the already-high 22.5 percent seen in the rest of the country.

Numerous issues that have caused the poverty rates in Iraq to significantly increase. While some of the issues present require prolonged military action to resolve, such as the presence of the Islamic State, others can be and should be a focal point of U.S. foreign aid spending.

Garrett Keyes

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the Syrian Arab RepublicThe topic of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic is one of particular importance, especially since the eruption of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence on the lack of political settlement between the U.S. and Russia in 2016. According to the most recent numbers by the organization I Am Syria, the death toll is at 470,000, including 848 in June 2017.

Systematic human rights abuses in the Syrian Arab Republic were carried out by organized groups such as the Islamic State and former Al-Qaeda member Jabhat al-Nusra. These violations include targeting civilians with artillery, kidnapping and executions. Non-state groups opposing the government have also carried out attacks on civilians, They have also used child soldiers, kidnapped individuals, blocked humanitarian aid and tortured others.

Because of the violence in Syria, many people have fled their homes. According to the UN, nearly 9 million Syrians are now considered to be refugees.

Fortunately, there are many organizations working on human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. Two of these work on informing the public of the violence occurring in order to bring to light the issues at hand. They are I Am Syria and the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

I Am Syria is a nonprofit, media-based campaign that works towards educating the public on the conflict in Syria. It supports the end of the conflict and is nonpartisan. Its most widely known campaign is known as “The Green Hand.” As noted on its website, The Green Hand is “a symbol of revolution and solidarity for the Syrian people.” Additionally, I Am Syria has material for teachers to inform their students about the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights’ (or SNHR) motto is “No Justice without Accountability.” It believes that for human rights’ victims to receive justice, it is necessary to hold their perpetrators accountable for the crimes they commit. The only way to do that is to expose their crimes.

For this reason, it composes monthly and annual reports that bring attention to the most notable human rights violations in Syria. These reports are utilized by organizations such as the UN for its reports as well.

Both these organizations have brought attention to human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. For them to be truly effective, the public must stay informed. Although this is a hard step to implement at a global level, I Am Syria and SNHR are working towards making that happen.

Sydney Roeder
Photo: Flickr

Lake Chad_Hunger
A hunger crisis in the Lake Chad basin has unfolded since Boko Haram has left much of Nigeria and surrounding nations in ruins.

The people in the region are facing famine-like conditions due to being forced to abandon their crops to flee Boko Haram. More than eight million people in the Lake Chad basin are currently struggling with hunger. The area is plunging further into food scarcity as more crops go unharvested. Some crops are even being burned as Boko Haram raids and loots villages.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group that has created unrest with bombings, abductions and assassinations. Its followers believe that the Nigerian government is run by non-believers, and Muslims should be forbidden from taking part in any activities associated with Western society, including voting in elections and participating in secular education.

While the group was founded in 2002, military operations began in 2009 in an attempt to create an Islamic state. The name Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden,” when translated loosely from the Hausa language. The U.S. declared Boko Haram a terrorist group in 2013.

Boko Haram spread its military campaign into the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The U.N. estimates that 14 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance.

An estimated 480,000 children across the four countries affected by Boko Haram are suffering from acute malnutrition. Basic supplies in refugee camps are scarce, and aid groups cannot reach those in villages occupied by Boko Haram as well as remote areas to offer humanitarian assistance. Of the children in critical need of assistance, U.N. officials estimate that 75,000 could die within a few months.

The hunger crisis in the Lake Chad basin is so severe that Doctors Without Borders physicians have added food to their bags of medical supplies. The U.N.’s World Food Programme delivered aid to more than one million people in December 2016, a sharp increase from the 160,000 people it assisted in October 2016. The World Food Programme is in desperate need of more funding to deliver life-saving assistance to all those in need in the region.

To help relieve the hunger crisis in the Lake Chad basin, you can make a donation to the World Food Programme.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Mustard Gas
The Islamic State has been using chemical weapons including the poison known as mustard gas on Iraqi and coalition forces, as well as on civilian targets. Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to respond by warning civilians in conflict zones about the use of chemical agents, isolating contaminated areas and providing treatment for victims of chemical weapon attacks. If the Iraqi government cannot do this, it should seek assistance from other Chemical Weapons Convention member countries.

According to the Pentagon, mustard gas has been stockpiled and used by the Islamic State in the past, and as the battle for Mosul continues, U.S. forces say that they expect to see it used again. The head of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program has confirmed that the Islamic State has been stockpiling these weapons with the intention of using them in the battle for Mosul. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of chemical attacks in the areas surrounding Mosul.

Mustard gas was first and most famously used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, and it has been used as a method of psychological warfare as well. Although exposure to mustard gas is rarely fatal, the chemical remains infamous for its invisibility, odorlessness and lack of immediate symptoms.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the effects of mustard gas depend on how much people are exposed to, the length of their exposure and the method of exposure. Exposure can occur through contact with the skin or eyes or by drinking contaminated water or eating the gas in liquid form.

Once exposed, it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear. These symptoms usually include redness and itching of the skin, irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract problems such as shortness of breath, sneezing, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, fever, anemia and bone weakness.

The long-term effects of mustard gas can include second- and third-degree burns, chronic respiratory disease, blindness and cancer. Due to the severity of these symptoms, the use of mustard gas by the Islamic State is extremely concerning.

The World Post reported the story of a 4-year-old girl who was killed by mustard gas deployed by the Islamic State in Taza, Iraq. Her mother was standing beside her when she was killed and suffered severe burns from the gas.

Human Rights Watch has documented several other chemical weapon attacks in late September and early October. These attacks constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. For the safety of civilians and soldiers in Iraq, it is imperative that the government follow the guidelines set by Human Rights Watch and prevent chemical attacks by the Islamic State.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Iraq
Hunger in Iraq remains a big concern. Over 13 years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the country continues to slip closer to starvation. As U.S. military numbers have increased in the country to just over 4,600 troops, Secretary of State John Kerry outlined additional spending to provide aid to the people of Iraq. His statement, released in April, cites the severe humanitarian crisis facing the country.

To alleviate hunger in Iraq, the State Department plans to spend an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to $778 million provided to the people of Iraq since fiscal year 2014. While commendable, this aid is dwarfed by the estimated $2 trillion the U.S. has spent on the war effort in that country and does not go nearly far enough to help solve the problem.

Iraq’s food shortage stems from displacement in the country. The Islamic State (IS) is still in open conflict with the Iraqi government forcing many from their homes, including farmers. Fighting in areas such as Salahuddin, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Anbar have greatly reduced or halted the food generated in these important growing regions, increasing hunger in Iraq. The U.N. estimates more than 3.4 million Iraqis have been displaced in the fighting so far.

Farmers are fleeing as sectarian violence has specifically targeted agrarian production in Iraq. In territory under their control, IS has shown a willingness to confiscate farming equipment. Groups opposing IS have attacked the agricultural production of local Arabs in retaliation for their cooperation. Yazidis have burned the fields of Arab farmers in Sinjar and in the breadbasket region of northern Nineveh, Kurdish fighters have razed entire Arab communities. Farmers face additional difficulties in growing crops such as a lack of agricultural machinery, a shortage of fuel and even unexploded bombs and mines in fields.

Exacerbating the issue, a stream of refugees have flooded over the border from neighboring Syria, seeking a refuge from the fighting there. To get an idea of the size of the problem, imagine a country with the land area and population size of California. Now imagine that the inhabitants of Los Angeles have been displaced to the rest of the state while a flood of refugees pour across the border.

Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, addressed the European Parliament in June 2015 stating, “In the months ahead the humanitarian situation is going to get worse … 10 million Iraqis are likely to need some form of life-saving assistance.” This threat looms in a country with a population of 33 million.

Looking just at food, the U.S. State Department optimistically expects the humanitarian aid from USAID distributed through the World Food Program to be able to feed just over 1.5 million people for about two and a half months. Yet according to the U.N., 4.4 million Iraqis are in need of food support, not counting the estimated 250,000 Syrian refugees taking shelter in the country.

The State Department is also providing funding for education, an important measure, but one that should take secondary priority in a country where millions are not having their daily hunger needs met. Sectarian violence creates a vicious cycle contributing to food shortages which in turn lead to more unrest. A response to hunger in Iraq needs to be part of any solution in the region.

Still in its infancy after the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Iraqi Government has proven ineffective in solving the nation’s hunger problems as it fights for its very survival against IS forces. Unless the international community takes action soon, the situation in Iraq threatens to spiral further out of control.

Will Sweger

Photo: Flickr

Elections in Jordan Set Precedent for a More Democratic Future
Historically, Jordan has encountered years of political corruption, extremism and the effects of war. Today, the country faces terrorist attacks from the Islamic State and social and economic issues regarding a huge number of Syrian refugees. The country also has an unemployment rate of about 15 percent, with the youth unemployment rate estimated to be as high as 30 percent.

While the country faces severe international and domestic issues, the Jordanian government has made a commitment to implementing an inclusive and democratic electoral process. This past September, the elections in Jordan set a positive precedent for the future of the country.

Although the process was fair, the results of the election remain fragmented. Voter turnout hovered at a low 37 percent and many regions of the country remain underrepresented. It is believed that the low turnout is a result of a lack of faith in the abilities of parliament to implement positive change. The elections this year have the potential to stimulate further change in consideration of future elections.

Jordan passed an election law earlier this year that abolished the previous one-person one-vote electoral system. The law also reduced the number of seats in parliament from 150 to 130. The old system was hugely unpopular among citizens and had been in place since 1933. The system was replaced with an open list proportional representative system.

Candidates run for election at the district level and citizens are allowed to vote as many times as there are seats in Parliament allocated to their district. Procedural improvements to Jordan’s electoral system open new doors for progressive change in future elections, especially at a time when the country faces problems regarding the global migrant crisis and terrorist actions from the Islamic State.

The Islamic Action Front, previously known as the Muslim Brotherhood, is a large political party in Jordan. After boycotting the 2010 and 2013 elections due to frustrations with the electoral process, they participated in the 2016 elections and secured 15 seats in the Lower House.

Election law during elections in Jordan reserves at least 15 seats for women. The 2016 election produced 20 women representatives, several of whom faced competitive races with male opponents. This means that 20 out of 130 of the new parliament members are women, which will provide better representation for Jordan’s female population than ever before.

With 70 percent of its population under the age of 30, Jordan has been working to incite younger generations to exercise their rights when it comes to getting involved in politics. Several domestic and international leadership organizations are involved in Jordan and work to educate young Jordanians on advocacy and political activism.

The political system has a long way to go before everyone in the country is accurately represented; however, the new adaptions to the electoral process and the continuous growth of women representatives in the elections in Jordan indicate the dedication of the government to push for positive change.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in LibyaHundreds of thousands of refugees have passed through Libya on their journey toward Europe, where they cross a short distance over the sea from Libya into Lampedusa, Italy. These refugees in Libya face grave danger from Libya’s Islamic State militant group and from human traffickers.

The Libyan government must take the steps necessary to protect these refugees; however, Libya has been without a centralized government since 2014. Here are ten facts that outline the trials and tribulations faced on the journey of refugees in Libya:

  1. The number of refugees passing through Libya has quadrupled since 2013. The increase in refugee traffic results in an increase in migration through Europe, where refugees are able to create their new lives.
  2. Previously, 87 percent of the almost one million refugees who crossed into Europe arrived through Greece. Now these refugees have been redirected through Libya as a result of the EU-Turkey deal that resettles one refugee for every one turned away.
  3. These hundreds of thousands of refugees in Libya are traveling from over 12 countries, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa. Refugees face many dangers on their journey, but the new start that awaits them beyond the Libyan border is motivation enough to brave any sort of obstacles.
  4. However, refugees who do pass across the Libyan border are sometimes intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and detained in overcrowded detention centers until they are deported back to their home countries.
  5. Aside from the coast guard, many refugees are taken in by human traffickers and subject to torture. This results from a lack of government centralization and control to reduce the crime that occurs in Libya, which could be improved by foreign aid to assist the Libyan government to create a safer environment for its citizens.
  6. Armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also intercept refugees on their journey toward Europe. These armed groups are able to infest Libya by way of a weak government that has little ability to remove or keep out these dangers, though the Libyan government also poses a danger to its citizens.
  7. Refugees in Libya are at great risk of religious persecution. Those who are persecuted can be detained by the Libyan government.
  8. Female refugees in Libya can face rape and starvation at the hands of human traffickers or smugglers who sell them to criminal gangs. Despite it being incredibly dangerous for refugees to pass through Libya, many still risk it to cross into Europe.
  9.  Mass rape is such a significant issue for refugees in Libya that women often take contraceptive pills before traveling through the area.
  10. The deputy director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa has called for the Libyan government and authorities as well as the European Union to protect refugees from abuse as they pass through Libya.

In order to protect refugees from facing abuse, the Libyan government and the EU should focus on finding safer routes and methods of exit for the refugees who are trapped in Libya instead of focusing on keeping refugees away. Refugees who come from over a dozen countries to pass through Libya may traverse dangerous roads, but it is with the intent to create new lives for the refugees and their families.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in TunisiaIn June 2016, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) online magazine announced that the organization has approved a four-year, $2.9 billion loan program to help alleviate poverty in Tunisia.

This news may come as a shock to some people. The IMF gave financial assistance in the form of a Stand-By Arrangement following the 2010 Tunisian Revolution, and the North African country is considered to be one of the few successes that emerged from the Arab Spring.

While Tunisia has come a long way both politically and economically, the country is still plagued by high unemployment and a lagging private sector.

According to IMF Survey, 15 percent of Tunisia’s population and 35 percent of its youth, are unemployed, contributing greatly to poverty in Tunisia. Civil society representatives, speaking with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim during his visit in May, claimed that only 27 percent of the country has access to finance due to strict rules on foreign transactions.

Joblessness and lack of opportunities has produced lackluster economic growth and low government approval ratings. The World Bank reported that only twenty percent of young Tunisians in urban areas trust the government. The figure is ten percent for the countryside.

Regional disparities are also a problem; while the national unemployment rate is high, it is even higher in regions far from the coast. In southwest Tunisia, 26.1 percent of people were unemployed in 2015, according to Tunisia’s National Statistics Institute.

Where unemployment goes, poverty follows. A 2014 World Bank report revealed that the poverty rate in central Tunisia was four times higher than the national average; as high as 30 percent in certain areas.

All of these factors combine to produce a significant number of disgruntled youth that extremist groups seek to recruit.

According to a Voice of America article published on June 6, 2016, over 7,000 people in the country have become fighters for the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. The reason, cited by many, is that the government has failed to integrate a youth population that is in a process of soul-searching, following the democratic uprising of 2010 that lasted into 2011.

In order curb this terrorist threat, which has major security implications for the region and the world at large, economic development and poverty reduction are key. The new IMF program aims to do exactly that.

In an interview with IMF Survey, IMF Mission Chief for Tunisia Amine Mati stated that by injecting more money, the $2.9 billion loan would help maintain the overall stability of the country’s economy.

As civil society representatives and young Tunisian entrepreneurs have made clear, labor market, private sector and structural reforms are also needed. According to Mati, the program will also assist government efforts in creating a more dynamic economy and ensuring growth is distributed across the country.

Tunisia has great potential. Its democratic government is committed to solving the country’s problems. Foreign aid will help accelerate the progress already made in reducing poverty in Tunisia.

Philip Katz

Photo: Pixabay