The Iraq Crisis
More than a decade ago, US entered a war that proved to be dubious and false. May be US and its allies believed in democratizing the Middle East or they sought to overthrow existing dictators in order to install a more compliant dictator. May be the truth is simpler: the US sent its troops to Iraq because it could and there’s no to question its decision. Later, when Arab Spring uprisings started, overthrowing authoritarians and promising democracy, some of the Iraq-war justifiers claimed the credit for this sudden change. However, time showed us that democracy in Egypt is only a farce; and the uprisings in Syria demanded more civilian blood for running the war. But, still the Obama administration claimed that, at least it has obliterated Al-Qaeda from the face of the Earth. The recent rise of ISIS only says us that nothing has been changed in Iraq or in Middle East.
Iraq consists of three main communities: the majority Shia and the minorities Sunni and Kurds. Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the new government proposed the idea of balancing Shiite majority and the minority Sunni and Kurds. However, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, for the past six years presided over to pack Iraqi military and police with Shiite loyalists. Many Kurdish commanders were sidelined – men who led Iraqi troops in the battles against Al-Qaeda, when it was nearly brought into extinction. Nearly 90,000 Sunni fighters fought against Al Qaeda in these battles. These fighters, who assisted Iraqi security forces and the United States, were called as ‘Sons of Iraq.’ The government promised that the ‘Sons of Iraq’ will be integrated into the Iraqi army and police to make those forces more representative of the overall Iraqi population.
However, the sectarian Prime Minister Al-Maliki saw that it never happened and slowly dismantled the US backed ‘Sons of Iraq.’ By the last year, the Sunni fighters became virtually non-existent. So, may thousand of their members aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in its war against the Iraqi government. The Syrian has increasingly taken sectarian dimension right from its inception. Sunni rebels fight to oust the Syrian regime dominated by members of a Shiite sect. The breakdown of authority in Iraq-Syrian border has helped the Sunni militants to easily cross into Iraq. These ISIS militants have recruited Iraqi Sunni fighters as they see al-Maliki as more of a threat than the Islamic State.
For the past five months, the ISIS militants are controlling the Iraqi city of Fallujah. On Tuesday and Wednesday (June 10th & 11th), they have taken over Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city – and Tikrit. Mosul was a city of 1.4 million people and a large Iraqi security force was garrisoned there. But, still the ISIS has captured the city with as many as 1,300 fighters. They are also looking for victory in other provinces where there is a heavy concentration of Sunni. The spectacular advances of ISIS are happening only because there is no armed resistance from Sunni community in northern and central Iraq. There might be suspicions about ISIS’s bloodthirsty fanaticism, but for now the Sunni communities have pushed aside those fears to gather against Iraq’s Shia dominated government.
However, the seizing territories have not just unfolded as a bi-lateral war (between ISIS and Iraq government). This is where the old wounds have started to open. The autonomous KRG – Kurdistan Regional Government is running the most stable and prosperous parts of Iraq and for a long time disputed against Iraq central government over oil revenues and territory. On Wednesday, June 11th, the Kurdish forces seized control of the city Kirkuk from ISIS. Kirkuk is one of large oil producing cities of Iraq and was hotly contested between Iraq Central government and autonomous, regional Kurdish government. The KRG after taking control of Kirkuk has announced that Baghdad owes Kurdistan $6 billion for the last six months of its share. The Kurdish units and their best-trained peshmerga fighters may eventually cooperate with Maliki, but not before achieving its ambitions of establishing de facto authority over the energy-rich periphery, including areas near Mosul.
As a Shiite country, Iran shares an affinity with the current governments of Iraq and its foreign minister offered his country’s support to Iraq. The United States have also offered support, but has denied the chance of using its ground troops in Iraq; only drone strikes remain as a possibility. However, if US chose to intervene in whichever way, it would place Iran as an ally in fighting the ISIS militants.
The ISIS capturing the Iraqi capital may not be possible, but for now it remains unchallenged in Mosul as it continues to push south. Like in Syria, Iraq has also become the victim of the conflict between the Sunni and the Shiite communities. The extreme volatile situation and an unwilling Iraqi Prime Minister are not promising any good things for Iraq’s future.