The Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, & Iran
The constant news coverage regarding the unrest and wars can tend to blur the distinctions among the countries in the Middle East. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran are unique but there are underlying similarities. These countries all have deep histories with rich contributions to society; however, outside influence has seemingly tainted that legacy in attempts to control their resources.
This essay can be read in conjunction with the author’s previous essay “Guyana: Modern Day El Dorado or Middle East.”
Afghanistan was part of the Indus Valley cradle of civilization where urban civilization began approximately in 3000 BC. During its ancient and medieval times, the region saw many dynasties, several conquests, flourishing trade, and cultural and religious changes.
The modern era is marked by continuous war and outside influence. In 1838, Britain exiled the country’s leader and put a former ruler back into power. Britain reversed course a few years later by putting the exiled ruler back into reign. In 1878, Britain gained control over Afghanistan’s foreign affairs after the Second Anglo-Afghan War fought over Russian influence. In the Third Anglo-Afghan War, Afghanistan proclaimed independence and invaded British India.
After that King Amanullah Khan established diplomatic relations, especially with the Soviet Union and Germany. Attempts at modernization then led to the Afghan Civil War. During the 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union competed to build infrastructure in Afghanistan. Daoud Khan also became the first president of Afghanistan after overthrowing the monarchy.
In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power, oppressed dissidents, and fought guerrilla mujahideen covertly trained by the United States and Pakistan’s ISI. In 1979, the Soviet-Afghan War began when Soviet troops invaded to stabilize unrest. The United States and Pakistan continued to support the mujahideen rebels with cash and weapons. The Soviets withdrew but the country continued to face civil wars.
In 1994, the Taliban emerged as a militia of students with Pakistani aid. The Taliban captured key cities and brutally treated the locals. In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to surrender Osama Bin Laden. The United States worked with the Northern Alliance and eventually overthrew the Taliban from Afghanistan. However, the country remains in unrest.
Iraq, too, has a rich history. Its prehistoric era reveals a Neanderthal culture between 65,000 to 35,000 BC. The Sumerian era is credited as producing the first writing system, recorded history, mathematics, and organized religion, among many other firsts. In 1792 BC, Hammurabi conquered portions of Iraq in his creation of Babylon. The Assyrian Empire emerged next. There were shifts in power and Alexander the Great took control in the 4th century BC.
In the mid-7th century, Islam was established in the region. Baghdad became the largest multicultural city in the Middle Ages until the Mongols burned down the city and destroyed the library. Iraq was also part of the Ottoman Empire. After the collapse of the empire, the region was divided into 3 vilayets.
In the 1920s, the British joined the vilayets and implemented a monarchy in Iraq. Iraq later gained independence from the British and overthrew its monarchy in 1958 to create a republic. The British, though, retained military bases in the area. The Ba’ath Party would rule the country from 1968-2003 with Sadam Hussein leading the party from 1979.
In 1980, Sadam Hussein declared war on Iran. Iran at the time was in chaos following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The war ended in a stalemate in 1988, however, approximately 1 million to 1.5 million lives were lost and chemical warfare was widely used.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United States intervened to protect its oil interests (the First Gulf War), and the Iraqi armed forces were severely destroyed. The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for the government’s failure to disarm and agree to a ceasefire.
In March 2003, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq based on false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The Coalition Provisional Authority was then established but the nation remained in post-invasion disorder, due greatly to the decision to exclude all Ba’ath members and even those with civilian jobs. In the summer of 2003, there was an insurgency against US troops that included jihadist groups. The tensions between the Sunnis and Shiates also intensified.
In 2006, Sadam Hussein was hanged. In 2011, all US troops were withdrawn. A civil war emerged in 2014 due to ISIS’s terrorist attacks. The United States’ arguably unjustified invasion resulted in many civilian and army deaths, and fueled extremely radical terrorist groups.
Iran’s history also begins in the ancient Lower Paleolithic times. It is actually one of the largest countries in the world with 83 million residents, and like Iraq, it was part of the Assyrian Empire. Afterwards, the Achaemenid Empire became the largest in history by encompassing 44% of the world’s population until its loss to Alexander the Great. From 1219-1221, Ghengis Khan’s army is said to have killed 10-15 million Iranians. Ancient Greek writings referred to the Iranian province of Persia but the name Persia persisted and is often used culturally to refer to the country. Iran is one of the few non-European states to be spared from colonization. Its gas supply is the largest in the world and its oil reserves are the third largest.
In the 19th century, vast Iranian territories were occupied by Russia. In 1911, Russia invaded and maintained a military presence. During World War II, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt issued a declaration for postwar Iranian independence and boundaries but Soviet troops remained until Iran granted it oil concessions.
Iran later nationalized its petroleum and oil industry but the United States participated in a covert operation to overthrow the government. Iran then entered a phase of both modernization and political oppression. The monarchy was overthrown in 1979 and Iran officially became an Islamic republic. Nevertheless, the political oppression continued.
On January 3, 2020, Iran’s revolutionary guard Qasem Solemani was assassinated by the United States in Iraq. Many felt that this could lead to another world war as opposition to the United States’ involvement peaked. Fortunately, there was no world war.
In sum, the United States, Britain, and Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran should serve as a history lesson for the South American countries that are emerging as key players in the oil industry.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning business and trademark attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, formation, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794
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