Iraq fac­tions jos­tle af­ter de­feat of IS

Shias, Kurds, Sun­nis seek power

Pretoria News - - WORLD -

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.

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