OUT IN THE DESERT

Rami G Khouri ex­am­ines the volatil­ity of Iraq and its emer­gence as the new prov­ing ground for Arab state­hood

CityPress - - Voices - Khouri is edi­tor at large of The Daily Star and direc­tor of the Is­sam Fares In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut, Le­banon. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ramikhouri

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

PHOTO: REUTERS

REFUGEES Dis­placed peo­ple from the mi­nor­ity Yazidi sect flee forces loyal to the Is­lamic State in Sin­jar town, Iraq, this week

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