One year on from the official announcement of ISIS' defeat, Iraqis celebrated Army Day and remembered those who had given their lives in the fight against the terrorist group.
On Sunday, Iraq celebrated the 98th anniversary of the Iraqi Army’s establishment. The army, which was established in 1921 when Iraq was under the British mandate, has witnessed many transformations over the years.
During the 1950s and 60s, the Iraqi Army played a transformative role in Iraqi society by leading a series of coups against existing governments, including the famous “14th July Revolution” led by Brigadier Abdul Karim Qasim, which marked the beginning of Iraq’s Republic. During that time, the public saw the Iraqi Army as a powerful source of advancement in the country, leading many initiatives to improve the country’s infrastructure.
However, the subsequent role of the Iraqi Army’s position led many to question its historical position as successive leaderships oversaw the army’s role in genocidal campaigns against the country’s Assyrian, Kurdish and Shi’a populations.
From the 1968 coup d’état that ushered in Ba’ath rule, to the 1980 war against Iran and the 1990 aggression on Kuwait, Iraqis saw the army as a powerful tool to serve the regime, rather than as a protective force for the nation and its people.
This raised doubts over the ability of the army to play a unifying role for Iraq’s many religious and ethnic groups. However, the past five years have seen a dramatic change in the perception of the Iraqi Army and its ability to become a symbol of national unity.
Playing a central role in the demise of ISIS, Iraqis welcomed the army last year shortly after the official announcement of ISIS’ defeat. Even in Fallujah, a city that has had a fractured relationship with Baghdad, locals came out to celebrate victory over ISIS and remember the sacrifices made towards liberating Iraqi territory.
To celebrate the occasion this year, members of the Iraqi Government, including the Iraqi President Barham Salih, attended a ceremony held at the “Unknown Soldier” Monument in Baghdad, and laid a wreath of flowers dedicated to Iraq’s fallen soldiers. Many Iraqis hope that the army can continue to play a more nationalistic role that brings together and celebrates diversity in the country.
“We emphasise the necessity of bolstering the capabilities of the army and enabling it as a professional national institution for all Iraqis across their different affiliations,” said President Barham Salih at the ceremony.
The army has a huge role in the future to bring belief and legitimacy to the Iraqi state by acting as a link between the two. In times of increasing pessimism, the Iraqi Army has illustrated the success of a state institution by proving itself in the fight against ISIS and instilling in Iraqis the belief that woes can be turned on their head.