The former UN chief speaking at the Munich conference. AFP photo.
BERLIN, Germany – Former UN chief Kofi Annan blamed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq for the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), warning that the Middle East must evolve and adapt for lasting peace.
Annan, who was speaking Sunday at the Munich Security Conference where many world leaders and ministers have been discussing global issues that include the wars in Iraq and Syria, said he had always opposed the US invasion of Iraq.
“The folly of that fateful decision was compounded by post-invasion decisions,” he said in a speech. “The wholesale disbandment of the security forces, among other measures poured hundreds of thousands of trained and disgruntled soldiers and policemen onto the streets,” he noted.
“The ensuing chaos has proved an ideal breeding ground for the Sunni radical groups that have now coalesced around the Islamic State label,” he said.
Annan warned that the Middle East is in crisis, and “there are no quick fixes or easy solutions.” Noting international involvement in the problems of the Middle East, including the war in Syria where a US-led coalition is arrayed against ISIS, Annan said, “There are limits to what outsiders can accomplish.”
Turning to Syria, the former UN secretary general noted that Bashar al-Assad still remains in power, as the war to oust him soon goes into its fourth year.
“The expansion of the war has turned Syria and Iraq into a single military theatre, producing what the EC has termed “the largest humanitarian crisis the world has known since the Second World War,” Annan told the conference.
He blamed “the funding of individuals and organizations preaching religious intolerance” for worsening the situation “with the tacit complicity of some states in the region,” adding that the Arab-Israeli conflict was another factor of regional instability.
Annan warned that the Middle East has been a theater for repressive leaders working against their own people with Western backing.
“States in the region have for decades cracked down on their critics with the connivance of external powers anxious to preserve secure oil supplies and sell weapons. But we should not confuse repression with stability,” he said.
“The radicals are leading the Middle East astray if they think that their ideology will restore the Muslim world’s erstwhile greatness,” he warned. “On the contrary, world history teaches us that closed societies decay. Open societies are the ones that prosper.”
“The Middle East must adapt, change and build a future” based on “peace and security, inclusive development, the rule of law and respect for human rights,” Annan said.
“If it does so, then I believe the majority of the people of the Middle East will not be sorry to see the end of the Middle East as we have known it.”