Iraq has been fighting the Islamic State (Daesh, ISIS) terror gang for well over a year now. Daesh’s blitz across Northern Iraq and its more recent advances in Iraq’s Anbar Province have led many to quite cynical conclusions. And to date Iraq’s efforts against Daesh have yielded few notable successes. This has led some to conclude that Iraq might as well be partitioned in the long-run since it cannot effectively function as a multi-denominational and multi-ethnic nation-state.
Yes things have looked extremely discouraging over the course of the past year. Especially in light of the Iraqi Army’s failure to prevent Daesh from overrunning Ramadi last month nearly a year after its monumental failure to defend Mosul and other large swaths of Northern Iraq in the summer of 2014. But to readily conclude that Iraq is finished, that Iraq is dead, at this point in time may be a premature judgement to make.
Indeed it is somewhat fashionable to say, especially in light of Daesh’s symbolic dismantlement of the Sykes-Picot Syria-Iraq border, that Iraq is a mere construct imposed by British imperialists – lines drawn on the map with little understanding of the intricacies which exist on the ground those boundaries were arbitrarily planted. Which is the case, as is the case with so are many other nation states. And if this war does lead to ultimately greater autonomy and less centralization for the nation as a whole that will be a success, not a failure.
I sometimes wonder if minute-by-minute news updates and detailed up-to-date accounts of situations across the world have led us to lose our sense of historical perspective. On what basis can we, or are some, arguing that Iraq has now failed as a nation, that it has no future? Because it has failed to completely defeat and completely setback a threat to its existence within the space of a year?
Think about it. What major conflict or war was definitively ended within the space of a year? Should one have, for example, have concluded that …
… early on in the American Civil War that because the Union had not thoroughly defeated the Confederacy in less than two years that the war was hopelessly lost and that the Union should have agreed to a partition of the United States rather than continue fighting?
… the fact the North Vietnamese had failed to wear down the Americans to the point of withdrawing from Vietnam by the end of the 1960’s was evidence that they would never prevail in that war and therefore should have unilaterally disbanded, surrendered or given up accordingly?
… the failure of the Iranians to repel fully the invading Iraqis from Iran’s western Khuzestan province by early 1982 (the Iraqi invasion begun in September 1980 and was eventually repelled in May 1982) showed they possessed “no will to fight” and that Iran should have accepted a compromise over that territory?
Don’t forget that since those humiliating aforementioned setbacks in Nineveh and Anbar we’re now seeing Iraqis fighting in tandem under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU’s). Not only are Shi’ite militias entering a Sunni-majority province but they are doing so in coordination with local Sunni tribesmen in order to recuperate Anbar from Daesh. Meaning the PMU’s are now, by all means, a combined citizen Sunni-Shiite fighting force. If they succeed in this effort they may even strengthen post-Daesh Iraq despite the many differences amongst Iraqis and fissures in the society which were exacerbated, with violent consequences, throughout the course of the Iraq War.
Iraq is fighting to overcome this crisis and eradicate this violent threat to its very existence. Look at the efforts being made by Iraqis of various different backgrounds. They are quite commendable and give one quite a bit of hope for Iraq and its future. Not cynicism. After all this is a country which hasn’t had a very strong central authority nor government since the regime change of 2003 and the lengthy Iraq War which followed. Nevertheless since the onset of this crisis national unity has been trumpeted by government and clerical (most notably the pre-eminent Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — who has been commendably sober-minded and thoughtful when it comes to devising thoughtful proposals to help solve this crisis) officials.
People who argue that Iraq has ceased to exist and that a partition is inevitable seem to also believe that a partition will resolve a lot of the mess in Iraq. It is of course not, the history of partitions indicates that a partition of Iraq (which will likely be, at least, a three-way partition) may ultimately be quite violent as opposed to a simple bloodless solution to its present woes. There are no simple solutions to this crisis. But that’s not the same as saying that a solution which keeps Iraq intact as a nation is not feasible. On the contrary.
Issues such as Kirkuk are going to be issues of contention and/or conflict regardless of whether or not Iraq officially breaks-up. The future, or lack thereof, of Iraq is going to be determined by developments in Anbar and Nineveh respectively. In Anbar Baghdad has to coordinate formerly disparate Shia and Sunni groups against a common foe. In Nineveh smaller minority groups will have to work in tandem to liberate Mosul, the crown jewel of Daesh’s so-called caliphate to date. That operation will likely have to encompass Kurdish forces (who have had many tactical successes against Daesh in Northern Iraq but are holding out on any attempt to liberate Mosul for the time being since going it alone would be too risky for them at this point in time), Sunni Arabs who have had to leave Mosul and wish to liberate their homes, and other smaller minorities in that part of Iraq.
The next few months will be very telling whereby Iraq’s future is concerned. There have been discouraging setbacks. There may even be some more. But there are also many encouraging signs that Iraq will indeed be able to weather the storm. And if these delicate efforts do succeed this whole crisis will likely strengthen the Iraqi nation as a whole.