The barbaric fighters of the self-styled “Islamic State” (Daesh) are consciously and openly trying to destroy the Iraqi state. Their head-on attack on Iraq and its society however may prove to have a unifying affect on that state and society in the long run.
As I write these words what is being termed a new and more inclusive cabinet is being established in Baghdad. The government seems to recognize the fundamental faults which were inherent in former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governance, which the Sunni Arabs and Kurds of Iraq felt discriminated and marginalized by, and are consequently setting out to ensure the government is more inclusive and representative. Because what Iraq needs if it is going to pull itself out of another sectarian morass of violence and avoid fragmenting as a state altogether is inclusive governance and a society which feels at least broadly united.
It would be foolish to state from our present vantage point that we are witnessing a pivotal moment in Iraq’s modern history. Nevertheless we could soon very well see Daesh ending up being the unwitting catalyst that brings about a stronger and more unified Iraq. There are plenty of historical parallels to draw from in order to illustrate why this may prove to be so. Limiting ourselves to Iraq we just have to recall Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran and his campaign of genocide against the Kurds.
In the case of the former he invaded Iran at a time when the new government was in disarray and there was infighting amongst the many ideologues who had been loosely united primarily due to their mutual disgruntlement with the rule of the Shah (it is vital to remember that the Ayatollah Khomeini was seen amongst many secular Iranians as a figurehead, they supported him under the impression that he wouldn’t, as he continuously promised before his famous return, seek power but would support the establishment of a republic). After Saddam hit the Iranians hard in his September 1980 invasion they were forced to organize on their feet as it were and unite in order to repel the invading Iraqi force. In the midst of that war Khomeini and his inner clique seized absolute power and gradually oppressed and forced from the center of power their various opponents. In essence Saddam’s attack ultimately served to strengthen Khomeini and his clique and solidified his regimes power.
In the case of the Kurds Saddam set out to completely subdue them and kill any who resisted his regimes rule. This saw to the instigation of the genocidal and infamous Al-Anfal campaign which saw extensive amounts of chemical weaponry used. At least 180,000 Kurds were killed and many ‘relocated’ from their villages into crowded internment camps. It seemed as if their spirit had been brutally broken. But what it ultimately saw to was the Kurds eventually (by mid-1991) garnering the sympathy of many nations and gradually building up the foundations of their own autonomous homeland. Today it is one of the wealthier and more stabler parts of Iraq and has its own regional government and security forces. It is far from perfect but at the same time far from the intended result of Saddam’s genocidal campaigns against them.
Today the idea that Daesh’s rapid gains in Northern Iraq will ultimately have a unifying affect on Iraq, in both the upper echelons of the government and amongst ordinary Iraqis of different ethnicities and denominations, is more likely an outcome than one might otherwise think. Such an unintended result of such an action on the part of Daesh certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented when one takes into account those two episodes I alluded to.
June 2014 was a very humiliating month for Iraq. We saw how the divisive governance of Maliki rendered the country completely inept in face of such a nasty adversary which humiliated the Iraqi Army and threatened to subject minorities to a campaign of genocide (seeing footage of thousands of civilians being once again hounded into desolate mountains in Northern Iraq in fear of being massacred was quite a horrible sight to behold). It forced all Iraqis to pull their socks up and reevaluate the way their country is being run. That reevaluation is starting to be shown in the political process as the society does its part of dispensing itself of this nasty foe. Daesh’s victory after all is Iraq’s defeat. And for Iraq to stave off such a defeat such inclusiveness is a fundamental necessity.
By hitting Iraq so hard and so quickly Daesh may have temporarily sent a very painful shockwave through the system and rendered it temporarily inert. But as it continues to try and blatantly exploit the fissures which exist in Iraqi society the society is recognizing that the only way it can pull itself out of the hellish sectarian morass of endless violence is through a broad form of inclusiveness which will in the long-run enable Iraq to overcome these sectarian rifts which are kept alive only by the most reactionary elements in the society, who are clearly very vocal minorities. That is being recognized and that recognition is finally being acted upon. The Kurds haven’t declared independence and broken away. Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric has called for concordance with his Sunni brethren and clearly shown he doesn’t endorse any sectarian, not to mention theocratic, form of governance by his Shia kinsmen, who are of course the majority sect in Iraq. All of these are positive signs.
Daesh hit Iraq hard across the head, but it didn’t knock it out. It gave it a concussion. Now that the state is recovering from that concussion it is clearly being recognized that the society can only function properly and effectively through concordance. Which is why this band of a few thousand violent sectarian fanatics may very well prove to be the catalyst for a reinvigorated, stronger, more unified and overall better Iraq.
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