The future of a united Iraq, if any?
In May, the Islamic State captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, more than 600 kilometers apart from each other. Despite efforts by the US and others, the terrorist organization has kept a firm footing in both Syria and Iraq, with both countries undergoing serious crises of statehood. This issue, Think Tank Tracker reviews reports on Iraq’s current political and military circumstances and asks whether a roadmap for its future exists While Islamic State holds more than half of Syria’s territory under its grip, it also keeps a sizable presence in western Iraq, notably around Anbar and Nineveh provinces. The tragic outcome of the recent onslaught of Islamic State both in Syria and Iraq is “the evaporation of any Sunni alternative to the jihadis,” says Samia Nakhoul of Reuters. Years of state-building efforts in Iraq seem taken yet another blow, further reducing the country’s viability.
In a report for the members and committees of the US Congress, Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service succinctly chronicled the post-Saddam Hussein political transition in Iraq and recounts the current state of disarray in Iraqi politics and security. Katzman argues that sectarian and ethnic strife in Iraq resurfaced after the US military departure in 2011, thereby exacerbating Iraq’s already shaky stability. Feeling marginalized and even sidelined by the new architecture of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi state, the majority of Sunni Arabs seem supportive of radical jihadis like Islamic State as a reaction against the Shia dominance of power.
After former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s divisive policies, current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took some majors initiatives to alleviate Sunni resentment, such as passing a law to reintegrate former Ba’ath Party members in the central government and lifting the Baghdad curfew. However, Abadi seems helplessly caught between rival camps and he “remains dependent politically and militarily on the Shiite militias. […] [Abadi’s] attempts to address Sunni demands have also caused agitation among the government’s core Shiite base.” In addition, Iraqi Kurds are striving to consolidate their state within Iraq while dealing with the threat of Islamic State, which has hindered their road to independence.
In such a state of disarray and chaos, Katzman lays out in his report the extent and scope of US involvement to stabilize Iraqi unity and defeat Islamic State. The US sold Iraq a large number of “Hellfire” air-to-surface missiles for use against Islamic State and has supplied at least 5,000 missiles to date. The training of Iraqi combat pilots is done in Arizona and 36 F-16 fighter jets will be delivered to Baghdad by the end of this year. The US Congress has also approved the sale and lease of 30 Apache attack helicopters, 200 Humvees and other military equipment, and Iraq has purchased several unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance surveillance