Iraq factions jostle after defeat of IS
Shias, Kurds, Sunnis seek power
OLD DISPUTES between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds over territory, resources and power are resurfacing as the victors of the recent battles against Islamic State (IS) compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-IS landscape.
Yesterday, Iraq’s parliament voted to remove the governor of Kirkuk from office following a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to several lawmakers who attended the vote.
The decision to remove Najmaddin Kareem comes after Kirkuk
an oil-rich province claimed by – central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq voted to take part – in a referendum set for September 25 on Kurdish independence.
Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbours are opposed to the referendum and earlier this week the Iraqi parliament voted to reject it and authorised Abadi to “take all measures” to preserve national unity.
Iraqi lawmakers worry the referendum will consolidate Kurdish control over several disputed areas, including Kirkuk.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, however, has vowed to press ahead with the referendum and continues to insist the vote will be held on time.
Such rivalry is now compounded by the mammoth task of rebuilding towns and cities destroyed by the fighting, returning millions of people to their homes and reconciling the communities that once welcomed the IS’s brutal rule as preferable to their own government’s neglect and abuse.
A failure to manage the post-conflict situation risks a repeat of the cycle of grievance and insurgency that fuelled the original Iraqi insurgency in 2003, and its reincarnation in the form of the IS after 2011, Iraqis and other observers say.
But it is a vast and potentially insurmountable challenge, laid bare in the traumatised communities of Mosul. In its relatively unscathed eastern part, life has bounced back. Traffic clogs the streets, music blares from markets and stores are piled high with consumer goods, such as cellphones, air conditioners and satellite dishes, which were banned or hard to find under IS rule.
In the ravaged west, which bore the brunt of the fighting, entire neighbourhoods have been levelled beyond repair. In the Old City alone, 230 000 people have been left without habitation, and “they are not going home soon; the whole district has to be rebuilt”, said Lise Grande, the deputy special representative of the UN mission in Iraq.
So far, there is no sign of any reconstruction effort on the scale that will be required, said Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi former foreign minister who is from Mosul and now works as an adviser with the Kurdish regional government.
“The writing is on the wall there will be another IS. The scale of frustration. The lack of hope. The lack of government stepping in. What can you expect?”
Meanwhile, distractions loom as Iraq’s attention shifts to the long-standing political rivalries that were put on hold by the imperative of confronting the IS.
As the Kurdish region presses ahead with its referendum on independence, rifts are emerging within Iraq’s governing Shia majority, which rallied behind the country’s security forces and militias
known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or – Popular Mobilisation Forces for – the sake of fighting IS. There are sharp divergences, however, over the future identity of their country, over whether it should tilt further toward Iran or maintain an alliance with the US, and over how far to go to reconcile minority Sunnis with the Shia.
These issues are expected to come to the fore in elections due in early 2018 that could be a focus for conflict as the parties behind the powerful Iranian-backed militias that played a big role in the fighting seek to capitalise on their victories by winning a bigger share in parliament.
A man sits in the centre of Erbil, Kurdistan region, near a campaign poster urging people to vote ‘yes’ in a poll on independence from Iraq.