Learning from past mistakes: what Afghanistan can learn from Iraq

The Iraqi government in Baghdad is facing a deadly insurgency since American troops left the country. Will the new Afghan leadership be able to avoid similar issues after ISAF troops leave the country in 2014?

American troops left Iraq in 2011, although peace has not been achieved in this Middle Eastern country. In the years following the withdrawal of foreign troops, sectarian violence has increased with terrorist incidents happening on a daily basis. Recently the situation became even worse when the Islamic State group seized large parts of Western Iraq including most of the Anbar province and the second largest city of Mosul. NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops are planning to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, however recently there have been talks to extend the deadline.

Afghanistan recently experienced a peaceful transition of power for the first time when elections were organized and president Hamid Karzai was succeeded by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Ghani will have a difficult job to maintain relative stability in Afghanistan and not to repeat the mistakes of former Iraqi PM Nouri Al-Maliki.

Iraqi experience

In 2011 when US troops were leaving Iraq, US president Barack Obama famously said that it is harder to end a war than start it. The situation in Iraq today is worse than before the American invasion in 2003. Immediately after the withdrawal of US troops, sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias intensified and the number of terrorist incidents increased. In the capital Baghdad attacks became a weekly occurrence, and after the last American troops left Iraq on December 14th  2011, fighting, bombings and other violent incidents occurred immediately. After 2011 Iraq has experienced everything from suicide bombings in mosques in Baghdad to Yazidi massacres, using female captives as sex slaves, and the capture of large cities such as Mosul, Fallujah or Ramadi by terrorist organizations. (Taylor, 2014)

This surge of violence resulted in an increase of the number of deaths in 2012 in comparison to previous years and has now  almost reached those in the early years of the US-led invasion. Sunni residents were not happy with the policy of former Prime Minister Al-Maliki, who later resigned due to the ongoing crisis (Piven, 2012). The fact that the amount of victims of violence has increased dramatically is proved by an Iraqi Body Count agency. Figures of 2014 are the highest since 2006-07 (IBC, 2014).

Developments in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is set to face a new phase in its history when foreign troops leave the country in 2014 (although this date is still disputed as there have been talks about extending the ISAF mission for one more year) and Afghanistan is facing these challenges with new leaders. The presidency of Hamid Karzai was controversial and Ashraf Ghani has many issues to solve. The new president was formerly a finance minister and a World Bank economist and in order to come to power he had to sign a power-sharing agreement with his former opponent Abdullah Abdullah. When Ghani was proclaimed as president, Abdullah became the chief executive of Afghanistan (prime minister). The new government allowed for a small number of US troops to stay after 2014 while the previous government had refused to do so. (Gul, 2014).

The summer of 2013 is already known as one of the most violent seasons in recent Afghani history. In 2014 the attacks by the Taliban increased in number and there is fear that this trend will continue, especially due to the fact that more and more territory is now under control of Afghans (Central Helmand, Kandahar, etc). Even though the concerns are high, it is hard to make a judgment about the situation right now. A clearer picture will be seen a few months after ISAF troops leave, however the bad precedent of Iraq is there. (Felbab-Brown, 2014) Another interesting development might occur after US troops leave Afghanistan such as an increase of influence on the Afghan government by neighboring powers such as India, China, Pakistan and even Russia. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has already promised support to Afghanistan after ISAF withdrawal.

The future of Afghanistan looks uncertain but despite difficulties there is hope for peace. The Afghani government should learn from the Iraqi experience and from their own mistakes in the past in order to move successfully towards the future.

About the Author

Giorgi Shengelia is a graduate of University College Dublin (UCD) with a bachelor’s degree in Politics and International Relations, and a master’s degree in Geopolitics and Global Economics. He has completed an internship in the Georgian Embassy to Ireland and is currently working in the Human Rights Committee in the Parliament of Georgia. His fields of interests include Geopolitics, Human Rights, European Union and Middle East Politics. Giorgi is part of GPPW’s internship programme.

You can find him on Facebook and Linkedin 

*Cover image ‘Daily Life in Herat, Afghanistan‘ by United Nations Photo

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