Half of today's Iraqi population was not yet born when the Iraq war began 20 years ago. They only know life under the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein, whom the US-led international coalition overthrew at the time, from stories. The consequences of the US invasion are shaping the country to this day.
The USA has not succeeded in establishing stability or even a functioning democracy in Iraq. Elections in the country do little to change the real balance of power. This is reminiscent of the situation in Afghanistan: there, too, the Americans strove for a political transformation - and failed. After the chaotic withdrawal of the NATO-led troops, the Taliban took power there again.
Despite the long-standing US presence in Iraq, the situation is anything but rosy. People are frustrated by the widespread corruption and mismanagement. Although Iraq is one of the oil-richest countries in the world, the electricity keeps going out. Again and again there are mass protests against the leadership and its clientele politics. This is probably one of the reasons why Iraqis make up a large group of those seeking protection who apply for asylum in Germany.
Majority of Muslims in Iraq are Shia
The US military operation changed the balance of power in Iraq - and the entire region. The beneficiary was the Shiite neighboring country Iran, which gained great influence in Iraq with the help of militias. These militias are also suspected of attacking positions owned by the US-led coalition, which wants to force them out of the country.
Shia Muslims make up the majority in Iraq. Divided into different camps, they have dominated politics since the US invasion. For many previously privileged Sunnis, the upheavals were frustrating. The ranks of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist network, which took control of large parts of the country in 2014, also included many Sunnis who had previously served in Saddam's army. When the US disbanded the military after his fall, the soldiers felt humiliated. The IS also took advantage of the chaos after the US invasion to expand in the country.
fight against ISIS
The American troops initially withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned almost three years later to support the local security forces in the fight against IS.
The terrorists also killed, abducted and enslaved thousands of members of the Yezidi religious community in Iraq. Since then, a number of displaced Yazidis have been living in refugee camps.
The commander of the US military command responsible for the region (Centcom) recently emphasized that the US military had weakened IS through the operation. The ongoing troop presence is essential to maintain security in the region and the protection of the United States. Despite the military defeat, IS cells continue to carry out attacks in the region and beyond. Some experts fear that IS could regain strength should US troops eventually withdraw from Iraq - and thus trigger an even larger movement of refugees towards Europe.
Today, the US military mainly trains Iraq's army. Around 2,500 American soldiers are still stationed in the country. The limited deployment has hardly any supporters in the American population - but it is no longer a political bone of contention.
"US military operation marked by many failures"
On March 20, 2003, US troops invaded Iraq. Then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. However, these were never found. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the war.
"In the first few years, the US military mission in Iraq was characterized by a great many failures," says political scientist Thomas Schmidinger of the German Press Agency. The USA had completely misjudged the social situation and the state of the state. Nevertheless, not all of the current problems in Iraq can be traced back to mistakes made by the USA, emphasizes the scientist from the University of Vienna, who is currently a visiting professor in Erbil. Iraq is a safer country today than it was before the US mission. According to Schmidinger, it is also "easy to imagine that the US troops will withdraw from here in a much more regulated manner than from Afghanistan."