Re­cent De­vel­op­ments in Iraq

The ISIS has cap­tured large quan­ti­ties of so­phis­ti­cated weaponry from the Iraqi Army and se­cu­rity forces which had fled aban­don­ing their weapons in the face of the ISIS on­slaught dur­ing the past month

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Ran­jit Gupta

AONCE PROS­PER­OUS, SEC­U­LAR, well ad­min­is­tered Iraq is to­day in ab­so­lute sham­bles. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Iraq is es­sen­tially the con­se­quence of US poli­cies to­wards Iraq since 1990-91 but par­tic­u­larly of the US in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 and its sub­se­quent mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion, marked by thor­oughly in­ept gover­nance, till 2011 when US troops fi­nally with­drew, leav­ing be­hind a bro­ken coun­try wracked by sec­tar­ian strife and in­ter­nal in­sur­gen­cies.

The im­me­di­ate trig­ger is the un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity that dur­ing the eight years of the US in­stalled Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki’s in­creas­ingly bla­tantly par­ti­san rule, the Sun­nis were steadily and con­tin­u­ously side­lined and have been com­pletely alien­ated; the re­la­tion­ship between the Shia and Sunni com­mu­ni­ties has never been as poi­sonous as it is to­day. A Sunni back­lash was in­evitable. This is what we are wit­ness­ing in Iraq man­i­fested in par­tic­u­lar by the light­en­ing takeover of the Sunni dom­i­nated prov­inces of Iraq and the es­tab­lish­ment of the Is­lamic Caliphate on June 30 by the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria, the ISIS, an ex­trem­ist mil­i­tant group even more rad­i­cal and bru­tal than Al Qaeda.

Con­sid­er­able por­tions of Western Syria and most of the area of Iraq’s Sunni prov­inces are part of the ter­ri­to­rial do­main of the newly es­tab­lished Is­lamist Caliphate – an area larger than Jor­dan. Syr­ian oil­fields are un­der its con­trol; it is run­ning a com­plete ad­min­is­tra­tion in the Syr­ian part of its do­main and plan­ning to do the same in Iraq; the bor­der between Syria and Iraq has been ef­fec­tively erased while the Iraqi Gov­ern­ment is no longer in full and effective con­trol of Iraq’s bor­ders with Jor­dan and Saudi Ara­bia; the ISIS has cap­tured large quan­ti­ties of so­phis­ti­cated weaponry from the Iraqi Army and se­cu­rity forces which had fled aban­don­ing their weapons in the face of the ISIS on­slaught dur­ing the past month. It has al­most $2 bil­lion worth of as­sets. Though its to­tal man­power strength is only about 10,000-12,000, mostly Iraqi, with about 3,000 or so for­eign­ers of var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties, it is very highly mo­ti­vated and well or­gan­ised.

In short, within the ter­ri­tory that it con­trols it is a for­mi­da­ble force with lit­tle or no co­her­ent Iraqi or Syr­ian Gov­ern­ment op­po­si­tion. Un­less the ISIS strongly alien­ates the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, as it had done in 2005-09 in An­bar prov­ince, in its orig­i­nal in­car­na­tion as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) or the Is­lamic State of Iraq (ISI), it will not be easy for Iraqi forces by them­selves to dis­man­tle the so­called ‘Is­lamic State’, though gov­ern­ment forces have launched op­er­a­tions against the ISIS in and around Tikrit in par­tic­u­lar. On the other hand, it is not go­ing to be easy for the ISIS to ex­pand its ter­ri­to­rial do­main be­cause it would have to now con­tend with much stronger Iraqi forces and also not have the sup­port of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. One or the other side will make mar­ginal gains from time to time. I do not see the ISIS for­ay­ing into neigh­bour­ing coun­tries—Jor­dan, Kuwait and Saudi Ara­bia. It is likely that a broad stale­mate sit­u­a­tion will ex­ist for the im­me­di­ate future in Iraq but blood­shed and vi­o­lence are likely to con­tinue in­creas­ing.

For all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, Iraq, at least for the time be­ing, has frag­mented with three dif­fer­ent au­thor­i­ties ex­er­cis­ing con- trol of the three dis­tinct re­gions of the coun­try – the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment in the Kur­dish ar­eas, the Is­lamic State in the Sunni ar­eas and the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment only in and around Bagh­dad and con­trol­ling the Shia ar­eas. The longer this sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues the greater is the dan­ger of Iraq be­ing de facto par­ti­tioned, which, even with­out be­com­ing a de jure breakup of the coun­try, would have cas­cad­ing dan­ger­ous and un­pre­dictable con­se­quences through­out the Gulf re­gion and West Asia. Given that much of the world de­pends for its oil needs on the Gulf re­gion, the global con­se­quences could be cat­a­strophic.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the Is­lamic Caliphate is clearly a chal­lenge but it also presents a huge strate­gic op­por­tu­nity. For the first time since the tur­bu­lence in the Arab world started in the win­ter of 2010-11 and re­ally only time in decades, all coun­tries of the re­gion and all ma­jor pow­ers are united in sharing a com­mon con­cern and threat posed by the rise of the ISIS in Iraq/Syria. Most en­cour­ag­ingly, both Iraqi Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Al Sis­tani and Iraqi rad­i­cal Shia cleric Mo­q­tada Sadr, the founder-leader of a very pow­er­ful Shia mili­tia, have pub­licly called for a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment and recog­ni­tion of the le­git­i­mate rights of Sun­nis; also that King Ab­dul­lah of Saudi Ara­bia has called upon Sun­nis to join a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment. It has the de­ployed

The im­me­di­ate trig­ger is the un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity that dur­ing the eight years of the US in­stalled Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki’s in­creas­ingly bla­tantly par­ti­san rule, the Sun­nis were steadily and con­tin­u­ously side­lined and have been com­pletely alien­ated

3,10,000 troops along the bor­der and is in touch with Sunni tribal chiefs en­cour­ag­ing a re­volt against the ISIS; US mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers have ar­rived in Iraq and US drones are pa­trolling over the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly Bagh­dad. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Obama has in­di­cated that the US will not send troops – a right de­ci­sion be­cause it will be po­lit­i­cally coun­ter­pro­duc­tive do­mes­ti­cally in Iraq and pre­vent vi­tally es­sen­tial Ira­nian co­op­er­a­tion. Rus­sia has pro­vided Sukhoi fighters. Huge, multi-di­men­sional and un­con­di­tional help has been and will be avail­able from Iran. An in­ter­na­tional coali­tion is the­o­ret­i­cally in place. How­ever, ul­ti­mately, it is only the Iraqis that can bring about a longterm and per­ma­nent set­tle­ment of do­mes­ti­cally con­tentious is­sues.

The first un­avoid­able and ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial step is to have a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity in Iraq en­com­pass­ing all the three eth­nic and sec­tar­ian de­nom­i­na­tions. Each di­rect neigh­bour, all re­gional coun­tries and all ma­jor pow­ers have specif­i­cally called for this and many have very con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence on the ground in Iraq with dif­fer­ent fac­tions and el­e­ments. This is the lit­mus test – if this rel­a­tively eas­ier to han­dle mat­ter can­not be man­aged through re­gional and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, then the much more dif­fi­cult is­sue of dis­man­tling the Is­lamic Caliphate and pre­serv­ing the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of Iraq would be al­most im­pos­si­ble to achieve. If, on the other hand, such co­op­er­a­tion suc­ceeds in bring­ing about a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment, this will build mu­tual con­fi­dence and pro­mote pos­si­bil­i­ties of co­op­er­a­tion amongst th­ese coun­tries not only to con­front the Is­lamic Caliphate and but more im­por­tantly to help re­solve larger is­sues in Iraq and in draw­ing down the civil war in Syria.

The Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the United Na­tions needs to ur­gently con­vene a meet­ing with a sin­gle-point agenda to be­gin with – for­ma­tion of a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment – of coun­tries that can in­flu­ence out­comes on the ground in Iraq—EU, China, Iran, Rus­sia, Tur­key, Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and the US to pro­vide in­ter­na­tional sup­port to a new gov­ern­ment and en­cour­age and in­cen­tivise it to un­der­take badly needed po­lit­i­cal and economic re­forms. The re­al­ity is that In­dia is not a player on the ground in Iraq, but In­dia must ask to par­tic­i­pate in any such con­fer­ence and will surely be ac­com­mo­dated.

Im­pli­ca­tions for In­dia

The im­me­di­ate im­pact of the ISIS sweep across north­ern Iraq was on the safety and wel­fare of In­di­ans work­ing in the re­gions un­der the con­trol of the ISIS. The 46 In­dian nurses have been safely brought home as also more than 2,500 other In­di­ans from dif­fer­ent parts of Iraq; how­ever 39 con­struc­tion work­ers re­main and it is ev­ery In­dian’s hope that the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts that the gov­ern­ment made in suc­cess­fully bring­ing the nurses back will suc­ceed for th­ese work­ers too. The gov­ern­ment has also put in place mech­a­nisms to bring back any other In­dian who de­sires to re­turn. No­body knows how many In­di­ans there are in Iraq, but could be 10,000 or even more, mostly in Shi­ite pop­u­lated South­ern Iraq, where they are quite safe, and evac­u­at­ing all may not be nec­es­sary or even de­sir­able to pre­vent loss of con­fi­dence in the em­ploy­a­bil­ity of In­di­ans in the Gulf re­gion.

Cur­rently Iraq holds the sec­ond rank of coun­tries sup­ply­ing oil to In­dia. This is un­likely to be ad­versely af­fected be­cause the oil­fields and the port from where the oil is ex­ported are in the gov­ern­ment con­trolled Shia ma­jor­ity south­ern prov­inces.

The ISIS’s ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive is to have all Mus­lims un­der the Is­lamic Caliphate and the map thereof which has been re­leased in­cludes In­dia. In their man­i­festo Kash­mir has been men­tioned specif­i­cally. How­ever, there is no rea­son for In­dia to be par­tic­u­larly wor­ried. The ISIS is go­ing to be ex­tremely busy in Iraq and Syria for the fore­see­able future. How­ever, the Caliphate could be an ide­o­log­i­cal bea­con for mis­guided or un­em­ployed In­dian Mus­lim youth; but the causes and reme­dies for that lie with the In­dian Gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety, not abroad.

How­ever, since seven mil­lion In­di­ans live and work in the Gulf re­gion; In­dia is de­pen­dent for over 70 per cent of its oil and gas sup­plies on the Gulf re­gion; the Gulf re­gion is also In­dia’s largest trade part­ner by far—$181 bil­lion in 2012-13; Is­lamic ex­trem­ism has been surg­ing in the re­gion; a ma­jor de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq can have spillover ef­fects lead­ing to re­gional in­sta­bil­ity which could af­fect all In­dian in­ter­ests men­tioned above. There­fore, main­te­nance of sta­bil­ity in the Gulf re­gion must be con­sid­ered as one of the top for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties for In­dia.

De­spite their sta­tion be­ing bombed, Iraqi po­lice con­tinue work­ing in the un­harmed ar­eas of the sta­tion and

work the streets

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