The next twelve months will more likely than not be very important whereby Iraq’s future is concerned.
If the threat posed by the Islamic State group (referred to herein as Daesh) persists and the Iraqi state, with assistance from the United States and its coalition allies, proves unable to thoroughly uproot them and regain control over the large swaths of Iraqi territory that group still controls we may see the Iraqi state fragment. Some argue that Iraq is already finished for good, this scribbler thinks it’s a bit soon to determine whether or not the present crisis spells the end of Iraq as we know it, or knew it, for good.
It’s not all bad news mind you. While Daesh does retain hold over Mosul, parts of the northwest and most of the western Anbar province, they don’t have a hope in hell of overrunning the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan and certainly no chance of overrunning Baghdad or the Shia south. There is, however, a chance that Daesh will remain entrenched in the territories it holds until larger counter-offensive ground operations are launched against them – which would probably be more effective if they are coordinated with Sunni tribal elements in those areas Daesh presently occupy, areas which conform to the predominately Sunni parts of the country – but, thankfully, very little chance of them expanding much further. Consequently we could see a scenario unfold whereby the coalition just continues to bomb their forces when and where it can, which will probably be the case for the first few months of 2015.
If Baghdad overly relies on Shia militias to fight Daesh they will find it very difficult to retake and consolidate control over all of the country and will likely, in the long run, degenerate into just another sectarian fighting force itself which would likely see to the de-facto partition of Iraq between sects roughly along the lines in which the country is presently divided between Daesh and everyone else. But I must stress that I don’t believe this means Daesh is the result of Sunni discontentment in Iraq, a view which has been promoted by those who went as far as to insist that Sunnis welcomed in Daesh in order to protect themselves from Shia sectarians. In my view Daesh merely exploited the instability which was rife in most of the parts of Iraq they now control to their advantage. How else do you explain the fact that Daesh feels so compelled to violently coerce the Sunni-majority populations over which it rules and frequently subjects to violent campaigns of intimidation and mass-murder?
While many Sunnis in the areas Daesh occupy would fight that group if they could, and some have tried and been butchered by those Islamists as a result, they are ill-armed for such an endeavour and feel let-down by Baghdad. That is why the steps the Iraqi government have taken to reform and reaffirm its function as an inclusive secular representative of the multi-denominational state of Iraq in the aftermath of the, at times, quasi-sectarian policies former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to forward. This coupled with the fact that the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq has denounced the idea that this is a sectarian Shia versus Sunni fight – and dissuaded Shiites who seek to fight Daesh from volunteering their services to Shia militia’s instead of the state army. On the contrary. This is a fight to save Iraq and its diverse communities as a whole, not a fight for the largest sect to use state power in order to subvert smaller sects in the political process.
Such political reform will increase the chance the Sunnis now being ruled over by Daesh will see the sight of the Iraqi Army coming over the horizon as a promising sign and a sign of coming liberation as opposed to the coming of another oppressive entity simply replacing the one which oppresses them now. That is where I harbour most of my hope for Iraq, its future and its ability to overcome this deadly threat to its territorial integrity. But that hope will only persist so long as Baghdad continues to make solid and tangible, as opposed to face-saving cosmetic, reforms to ensure they represent an inclusive state. Only by doing that can they thoroughly defeat the fanatics who wish to see such an Iraq fail. An Iraq which, I don’t need to remind you, is well worth fighting for.
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