The new re­al­i­ties in Iraq

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Again Iraq, but this time with dif­fer­ent play­ers. The fighters of the Is­lamic State in Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL) have al­ready con­quered north western Iraq get­ting as spoils the cities of Mo­sul, Faludja and Tikrit. Now, they fight to con­quer Bagh­dad as well. ISIL, whose ob­jec­tive is to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic caliphate, emerged in 2004 fol­low­ing the chaos of in­va­sion and the mis­takes of the Shi­ite lead­er­ship which came to power. Op­er­at­ing in Syria as well since 2013, ISIL claims to have un­der its com­mand more than 15,000 fighters who come from neigh­bour­ing Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries and even Europe (Bri­tain and Ger­many). ISIL’s suc­cesses are due to its co­he­sive­ness and strong com­mand, as well as the sup­port it en­joys among the Sunni pop­u­la­tion, op­pressed by the govern­ment of PM al-Ma­liki. Fac­ing an undis­ci­plined, dis­or­gan­ised and di­vided along sec­tar­ian lines Iraqi army, it was not dif­fi­cult for 800 ISIL fighters to win against 30,000 of Iraqi soldiers in Mo­sul.

As to how de­vel­op­ments reached this stage, we get an easy an­swer. Af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of the Ot­toman Em­pire, Great Bri­tain and France set the fron­tiers in the re­gion, ig­nor­ing eth­nic and re­li­gious dif­fer­ences. Thus, Syria and Iraq were born, the first with Ale­wites (Shi­ites) in power and Sunni ma­jor­ity, the sec­ond with Sun­nis in power and Shi­ite ma­jor­ity. Af­ter the Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq in 2003, Shi­ites came to power hav­ing as their al­lies the Kurds of north­ern Iraq, but op­press­ing the rights of the Sunni mi­nor­ity.

Af­ter the de­par­ture of the Amer­i­cans in 2011, many mat­ters re­mained un­set­tled. This is the case with the re­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the eq­ui­table share of fi­nan­cial re­sources, the clear-cut def­i­ni­tion of the re­la­tions be­tween the cen­tral author­ity and the prov­inces, etc. The ji­hadists of ISIL took ad­van­tage of this sit­u­a­tion and launched their light­ning as­sault.

These new re­al­i­ties brought to the fore new play­ers and new in­ter­ests. Within the coun­try, the 5 mil­lion Kurds, who are self-ruled since 2003, re­cap­tured their own ter­ri­tory us­ing the Pesh­merga (Kur­dish mili­tias) and took full con­trol of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they con­sider their his­toric cap­i­tal (to­day’s cap­i­tal is Er­bil). It is con­sid­ered that Kirkuk’s cap­ture elim­i­nates their main in­cen­tive to re­main part of Iraq. Abroad, Iran be­comes a ma­jor player for many rea­sons. In the first place it is con­sid­ered as a fac­tor of sta­bil­ity in the wider re­gion, if we take into ac­count what is hap­pen­ing in Syria, Pak­istan, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Will­ing to strengthen its Shi­ite al­lies in Iraq against the ji­hadists, Iran found it­self on the same side with Turkey and the United States.

Turkey, fol­low­ing ISIL’s cap­ture of the Turk­ish Con­sulate in Mo­sul and its tak­ing of con­sulate staff as hostages, sided with Iran against ISIL, al­though in the Syr­ian civil war they sup­port op­pos­ing sides. The United States, con­sid­er­ing de­vel­op­ments in Iraq as a great na­tional se­cu­rity threat, ini­tially did not ex­clude air strikes against the ji­hadists. It seems, how­ever, that now they are hav­ing sec­ond thoughts on how far they should go along with Iran, given the re­ac­tion of Is­rael and the Arab coun­tries of the Gulf.

In view of the above, the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing three states in Iraq, dis­mem­ber­ing the coun­try is ap­par­ent.

To avoid this de­vel­op­ment the United States in­sist on hav­ing an in­clu­sive govern­ment in which Kurds and Sun­nis will par­tic­i­pate, se­cur­ing in par­tic­u­lar the rights of the Sunni mi­nor­ity.

All de­pend on how things will go in the bat­tle field and the will­ing­ness of PM al-Ma­liki to ac­cept a govern­ment of na­tional unity. Time will show whether the fait-ac­com­plis will be con­sol­i­dated or re­versed, given the fact that new play­ers are grad­u­ally en­ter­ing into the pic­ture.

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