OUT IN THE DESERT
Rami G Khouri examines the volatility of Iraq and its emergence as the new proving ground for Arab statehood
Rarely in world history do we have a case like the state of Iraq today. The country now captures all the worst aspects of indigenous, regional and global political failures, but in history represented the pinnacle of human achievements in art, culture, poetry, learning, architecture, industry, irrigation, religion, governance and other domains of civilisation. Iraq is everything we could be and everything we fear to become rolled into one land.
Historians and contemporary ideologues will long debate who is primarily to blame for Iraq’s slide into its current state of fractured statehood, political immobility, widespread corruption and inefficiency, massive security lapses, and the new threat of the spread of the poisonous ideology of the “Islamic State” – a phenomenon that has as much to do with prevailing global Islamic norms as I have to do with the man in the moon.
For now, we should first grasp the various elements that paved the route to Iraq’s current misfortunes so we do not repeat them across the region. Iraq’s condition is not unique; the factors that shaped it operate in many countries in the Middle East – foreign interests that created the country in the first place, decades of megalomaniacal security-state rule that led to corruption and mediocrity in state institutions, structural meddling in Iraq’s affairs by strong regional powers, repeated foreign military interventions, socioeconomic mismanagement and incompetence in governance, the fracturing of the central state in favour of decentralised sectarian identities and interests, reassertion of sectcentred single strongman rule and, most recently, the rise of various militant movements that use religion for mobilising and legitimising purposes.
Most of these elements exist in many other Arab states that face similar vulnerabilities like Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and more limited aspects of Lebanon, Algeria and even wondrous Egypt. While it is easy to list the elements that have brought Iraq to this dangerous point, it is much more difficult to identify the route to emerging from the crisis and steering the country on to a path to recovery and normal development.
Where to begin? Electing or choosing a new president, prime minister and speaker of Parliament, as Iraqis have just done? Asking for foreign military intervention to stem the expansion of the Islamic State, as is now happening with US air strikes and other foreign powers’ arming of Kurdish forces? Mustering indigenous Iraqi military capabilities to push back and eventually liquidate the threat of the Islamic State? Iraqis themselves working to re-establish credible national institutions that serve all Iraqis, such as the armed forces, the education and health sectors, and the oil industry? Promoting inclusive governance and other state systems that are not based on sectarian identities? Fighting corruption?
All of these things need to be done simultaneously, and to a large extent many honourable Iraqis are trying heroically to do just this. Checking and then reversing the expansion of the area ruled by the Islamic State is clearly the top priority right now because the Islamic State’s ability to consolidate and extend its rule is a direct consequence of the inefficiency and collapse of Iraqi state authority. In fact, the incentive to fight back and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq should be the most important impetus for Iraqis to work together more effectively to rebuild their state institutions and reinvigorate a new sense of citizenship that is meaningful to all because it serves all citizens equitably.
Foreign military assistance is clearly required in the short run to give Iraqis the breathing space to regroup and repel the Islamic State phenomenon, which should not be difficult to do once a concerted effort is made to fight back against it.
It is remarkable that we have not, to date, witnessed a serious, coordinated move by Iraqis, Iranians, Saudis, Turks, Jordanians, Americans and interested others to pool their resources and crush the Islamic State forces.
All these countries are threatened by the expansion of the Islamic State and similar movements, and they have more than enough resources to shatter the Islamic State, which remains a parasitic, opportunistic, cult-like movement that can only flourish in areas of chaos and lack of state authority, and by imposing its rule by brutal force.
The more time the Islamic State has to consolidate its rule and perhaps evolve in a manner that generates more support and legitimacy, the more difficult it will be to eliminate it down the road.
Islamic State-type rule has no more chance of giving Arabs a decent life than did the centralised police state or the corrupt sectarian state that Arabs have endured for decades. Iraq is the place now where this issue will be put to the test. – Distributed by Agence Global
REFUGEES Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect flee forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, Iraq, this week