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Did the Iraq War Give Birth to the Arab Spring?

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
March 17, 2013


I was living in Syria when the statues of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq came toppling down.

Saddam, who had arrogantly had his name inscribed on bricks at the ancient city of Babylon, did not expect his rule to end so abruptly, so humiliatingly. And at the University of Damascus, students told me that they expected Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fall soon, too. They were not alone.

With 250,000 U.S. troops amassed in Iraq in 2003, George W. Bush's White House had contemplated rolling American tanks into the Syrian capital. The Middle East was to be reshaped in the image of American democracy. But events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea distracted the Pentagon, and the "democratic domino theory" did not come to pass.

Ten years after Iraq, did the war give birth to the Arab Spring?

Yes, the Iraq War had indirect connections to the Arab uprisings that swept the Middle East and northern Africa in 2011. For one, the fall of Saddam must have psychologically empowered Arab opposition activists who saw that a Ba'thist dictator and his sons could be removed from power.

But it is a mistake to suggest that Arabs across the region were directly inspired by the fall of Saddam -- if that were true, they would have risen a decade ago. Why wait until 2011? The answer is that other, more direct developments led to the ongoing Arab revolutions.

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