As Ira­nian com­man­der and Shi­ite mili­tias spear­head attack on Tikrit, more ques­tions than an­swers emerge from Iraq

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

pres­ence of thou­sands of Shi­ite mili­tia su­per­vised by com­man­der of the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards' elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani that speaks vol­umes.

Kur­dis­tan lead­ers have re­peated warned that with­out the sup­port of lo­cal Sunni tribesman in Tikrit and par­tic­u­larly Mo­sul, any mil­i­tary of­fen­sive will ul­ti­mately not have the de­sired long-term goals.

Mas­rour Barzani, Chan­cel­lor of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, re­it­er­ated warn­ings this week that “With­out the Iraqi army and, more specif­i­cally, Sunni el­e­ments within th­ese forces, it will not pro­duce the re­sults that we all hope for.” Barzani also lamented the lack of sup­plies of heavy weaponry to the Pesh­merga forces even as Kurds play lead­ing role against IS.

The Tikrit of­fen­sive was un­der­scored by a lack of Coali­tion in­volve­ment. It also comes amidst signs of cracks with the coali­tion over strat­egy. Where the U.S. openly lauded a loom­ing spring of­fen­sive to re­take Mo­sul, Iraqi De­fense Min­is­ter Khaled al-Obeidi quickly re­minded that Bagh­dad would de­ter­mine the tim­ing for any Mo­sul of­fen­sive.

It was Iran pulling the strings in Tikrit and whilst U.S. of­fi­cials have played this down for now, this has hardly soothed re­gional anx­i­ety.

“As the Iraqi army stands up more and more, mili­tias and ex­ter­nal ac­tors are go­ing to be less and less im­per­a­tive and needed,” US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry tried to re­as­sure its coali­tion part­ners. But for Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Prince Saud al-Faisal, Tikrit was ex­am­ple of the Ira­nian “take over” that they are wor­ried about.

Iraq has been en­gulfed in sec­tar­ian storms since 2003. On pa­per it built a con­sid­er­able state force with years of train­ing and US mil­i­tary aid, yet with­out sup­port from Shi­ite mili­tias, at­tacks such as that on Tikrit are sim­ply not pos­si­ble.

Sunni Sahwa or Awak­en­ing Coun­cils that were cru­cial to pre­vi­ously driv­ing out al-Qaeda have shown that Sunni tribal lead­ers can be en­ticed. But many of their de­mands, such as em­bed­ding Sahwa forces into the of­fi­cial se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus and greater con­trol of their af­fairs were not met and in­creas­ing sec­tar­ian poli­cies of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki fanned more Sunni dis­con­tent which even­tu­ally led to the wel­com­ing of IS in var­i­ous Sunni cir­cles.

If greater lo­cal Sunni sup­port can be at­tained in Tikrit and Mo­sul, IS can be much more read­ily de­feated.

Of greater im­por­tance is the shape of Tikrit and Mo­sul that is left be­hind, if Sun­nis can take con­trol of their own se­cu­rity and see hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and re­con­struc­tion from Bagh­dad then sta­bil­ity can be achieved.

If Shi­ite mili­tias or any sem­blance of Ira­nian marks are left be­hind on th­ese cities or if Bagh­dad wastes yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to en­tice the Sun­nis with greater po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity rep­re­sen­ta­tion, then a sense of déjà vu can­not be avoided.

One of the con­di­tions for the even­tual sup­port against IS was that the new Iraqi pre­mier, Haider al-Abadi, could achieve the elu­sive U.S. hope of a plu­ral and sta­ble Iraq with cross sec­tar­ian and eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

In Iraq, there re­mains as al­ways more ques­tions than an­swers.

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