How the seeds of Sunni in­sur­gency were sown long be­fore ISIS came to town

Does the US bail out Ma­liki, who ig­nored fre­quent US push for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion?

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

The dra­matic and rapid ad­vance by the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have caught many by sur­prise but it was a long time in the mak­ing.

The seeds of the sec­tar­ian mess that has gripped and paral­ysed Iraq were sown long be­fore a few thou­sand ISIS mili­ti­a­men scored mighty gains against an Iraqi force mul­ti­ples of its size.

An in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter, Nouri al-Ma­liki, sought US airstrikes as the ISIS mil­i­tants’ ar­rived at the doorsteps of Bagh­dad and now af­ter ini­tially suc­cess­ful counter-at­tacks the Iraqi forces are strug­gling to dis­lodge rebels from the sym­bolic town of Tikrit.

Does a US who has seen Bagh­dad pay lip ser­vice to their fran­tic at­tempts to pro­mote na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and en­tic­ing of the Sun­nis into the po­lit­i­cal fold for the past sev­eral years, bail out Ma­liki?

Even then, are US bail­ing out the Shi­ites against the Sun­nis, or Iraqis against Is­lamists?

The US congress ap­pre­hen­sion in tak­ing ac­tion when poli­cies of Ma­liki and Bagh­dad have stoked sec­tar­ian fires tells its own story. They hes­i­tated to take mil­i­tary ac­tion in Syr­ian, even with thou­sands dead, a rag­ing sec- tar­ian slaugh­ter and even use of chemical weapons. It seems highly ironic that they jump in to res­cue a Bagh­dad who deemed un­nec­es­sary to have even a resid­ual US force upon US with­drawal in Iraq and who brought this mess upon them­selves.

Sunni mil­i­tants were al­ready in ef­fec­tive con­trol of Fal­lu­jah, large parts of Ra­madi and the An­bar prov­ince since the turn of the year and al­ways threat­ened to ex­pand their cam­paign.

From the on­set of the ouster of Sad­dam Hus­sein, the U.S. had an ob­ses­sion of build­ing a demo­cratic, plu­ral­is­tic, sov­er­eign and in­clu­sive Iraq. Re­in­forc­ing the unity of Iraq or in­deed that of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion have been fre­quent themes that saw the US in­vest tril­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of lives.

It is no sur­prise that US Pres­i­dent Bar­rack Obama, in weigh­ing up ways to counter the swift ISIS and Sunni mil­i­tant drive to­wards Bagh­dad, em­pha­sised the po­lit­i­cal mea­sures and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that must ac­com­pany any US sup­port.

Such a line is no dif­fer­ent to that of for­mer US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush who on con­di­tion of the greater surge strat­egy in 20072008, set a num­ber of bench­marks for the Iraqi govern­ment. Amongst such bench­marks were a rep­re­sen­ta­tive na­tional govern­ment, a na­tional hy­dro­car­bon law, provin­cial pow­ers and above all na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that can en­tice the dis­en­fran­chised Sunni’s into the po­lit­i­cal fold.

Such US wishes of­ten proved il­lu­sion­ary and were never im­ple­mented on the ground.

It is not the first time that key cities such as Mo­sul and Fal­lu­jah and large parts of the volatile An­bar re­gion are in the hands of the Sunni mil­i­tants. In­deed ISIS may have gained strength from the Syr­ian war but the birth of ISIS has roots in the orig­i­nal in­sur­gency in Iraq.

Fur­ther­more, the me­dia cov­er­age may be dom­i­nated by ISIS, but many other Sunni rebel groups and Baathists have bol­stered the cur­rent ad­vance. It’s hard to be­lieve that a force of a few thou­sand rebels can make such rapid progress with­out lo­cal sup­port and sym­pa­thy on the ground.

While Bush’s surge strat­egy was cred­ited with end­ing the bloody in­sur­gency that crip­pled Iraq, iron­i­cally it was the Sun­nis them­selves that were at the fore­front of driv­ing out al-Qaeda through Sun- ni Sahwa coun­cils es­tab­lished at the time.

Arm­ing the Sahwa coun­cils were akin to a tick­ing time bomb and the sup­port of key Sunni tribes was ex­pected to be matched with real con­ces­sions from Bagh­dad, in­clud­ing a big­ger slice of the po­lit­i­cal cake, the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the Sunni mili­tias into the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and ul­ti­mately an over­haul of the con­sti­tu­tion.

A rel­a­tive lull in sec­tar­i­an­ism was not matched by prac­ti­cal steps to en­tice and ap­pease the Sun­nis and cen­tral­ist ten­den­cies of Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki slowly drove a larger wedge be­tween the Sun­nis and Shi­ites with a shaky coali­tion govern­ment soon fall­ing apart.

Ma­liki’s sec­ond term in par­tic­u­lar saw many key Sunni fig­ures side­lined or ex­iled from the po­lit­i­cal fold fur­ther an­tag­o­nis­ing mod­er­ate Sun­nis

Iraqi forces may be large on paper but are of­ten viewed with great sus­pi­cion by the Sun­nis and deemed as Shi­ite dom­i­nated with sec­tar­ian agen­das. It is not for a lack of train­ing or fire­power that they wilted away, those Iraqi forces sim­ply didn’t have the stomach for the fight in Sunni heart­lands. Any Sun­nis within those forces did not want to stand in the way of a new Sunni as­cen­dancy.

Sec­tar­i­an­ism breeds loy­alty in Iraq and ISIS will face a com­pletely dif­fer­ent pic­ture in Bagh­dad and Shi­ite strongholds.

Much like the gen­eral Sunni sen­ti­ment that drove al-Qaeda out of the Sunni neigh­bour­hoods at the height of the in­sur­gency, it is not that all Sun­nis wel­come ISIS or en­dorse their tac­tics or ide­ol­ogy. But for many their de­spise of the cen­tral govern­ment and Ma­liki is greater.

Af­ter decades of power, Sun­nis were sud­denly frozen out in 2003 and af­fec­tively played sec­ond fid­dle to the Shi­ite ma­jor­ity and this is a fact that most Sun­nis still fail to stomach.

The US sim­ply could not com­pre­hend the fierce ri­valry and sec­tar­ian pas­sion that un­der­pinned the gulf be­tween the fac­tions in Iraq. Sec­tar­ian an­i­mos­ity last­ing hun­dreds of years can­not be healed in a mat­ter of years.

US ob­ses­sion with the unity of Iraq aside, Iraq was a frac­tured so­ci­ety and a di­vided state from the first mo­ment it was stitched to­gether ar­ti­fi­cially.

Iraq had a de-facto par­ti­tion into three state lets since 2003, with the Kurds en­joy­ing near in­de­pen­dence in the north, the Shi­ites con­trol of the south and with the Sun­nis in the west. The only dif­fer­ence was that while the Kur­dish par­ti­tion and Shi­ite dom­i­nated Bagh­dad and the south had po­lit­i­cal power and eco­nomic clout, the Sunni side didn’t.

ISIS looks to change all that with a more pow­er­ful Sunni re­gion that stretches not only in Iraq but well be­yond the borders of Syria and with it key oil pro­duc­ing ar­eas.

The US can in­ter­vene, Iraqi forces can launch a fierce counter of­fen­sive or the Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion­ary guards can add their weight to the bat­tle but like a yo-yo that has al­ready plagued the sec­tar­ian di­vide, the Sunni headache will not go away. The branches can be cut but as we have seen through a num­ber of Sunni in­sur­gen­cies since 2003, the root firmly re­mains in­tact.

If Iraq saw a soft-par­ti­tion into 3 federal en­ti­ties as many in Wash­ing­ton and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity deemed as the only so­lu­tion at the time of US oc­cu­pa­tion, and away from the fix­a­tion of elu­sive na­tional unity, there would have been a greater chance of fos­ter­ing a more mod­er­ate Sunni slice.

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