Iraq tears itself apart

US should know that airstrikes are hardly the answer to rampant militancy, and that Iraq’s troubles are multi-faceted.


Editorial August 15, 2014

Several factors have led to Iraq’s current predicaments — vast swathes of territory overrun by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, a sectarian prime minister refusing to give up power, thousands belonging to a religious minority dying of thirst on top of a mountain, a renewed American bombing campaign — and none of those factors can be mitigated any time soon. An expression unfit to print comes to mind when thinking about Iraq, and it begins with ‘cluster’.

So, how did it come to this? The answer is years in the making. An increasingly lethal Shia-Sunni fault line has emerged, cutting across the Muslim world, from Bahrain to Syria, Lebanon to Pakistan — and Iraq is no different. The civil war that followed the American invasion of Iraq has segregated villages, cities and entire regions along sectarian lines. But of course, sectarianism forms only one part. Another is Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shia, Iran-backed (previously America-backed), increasingly autocratic prime minister, who has done little to forge sectarian harmony in the wake of the civil war and America’s departure, leaving Iraq’s minority Sunnis fearful and militarised. Another is Iran, which has become influential in Iraq ever since America’s departure, and is supporting Maliki’s sectarian regime. Of course, another is the US, whose boneheaded invasion in 2003 sped up Iraq’s descent into chaos. Its equally ill-timed decision to leave — when it was apparent that Iraq’s nascent democracy was illiberal and floundering; its army ill-disciplined and badly trained; that violence was increasing, and increasingly sectarian in nature; when war in Syria was spilling over its borders — encouraged Iraq’s myriad militant groups to regroup and reassert themselves.

And reassert they did. The ISIS is a nasty piece of work, so extreme that even al Qaeda distanced itself from it. It has conducted and filmed mass executions of Shias, and recently of one of Iraq’s most vulnerable religious minorities, the Yazidis. In very little time, it has grown to be one of the most formidable rebel groups in both Syria and Iraq. Ever since it procured most of northeastern Syria, including its border with Iraq, it now controls territory roughly the size of Belgium, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. It is important to consider that the ISIS controls, and seeks to control many of Iraq’s richest oilfields, including those in the country’s northeastern Kurdish areas, thereby being able to sustain itself.

In response, the US has belatedly began a bombing campaign on ISIS installations, ironically bombing American weapons that the US had left behind, and had since been acquired by ISIS fighters. (The intention is to make sure that Kurdish areas, which provide hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil every day, are not taken over.) But the bombing is neither here nor there. The US, of all countries, should know that airstrikes are hardly the answer to rampant militancy, and that Iraq’s troubles are multi-faceted and complex. In an interview, President Barack Obama blamed al-Maliki (conveniently omitting that it was the US that put him there) for the chaos in Iraq and for the removal of all American troops. That is disingenuous. Since the invasion, Iraq has hardly ever been in a position in which it had agency. Being the world’s sole superpower (which entails invading and withdrawing from countries at will), the US can hardly place responsibility on al-Maliki for its own absence in dealing with Iraq’s latest military threat. Political expediency and its own hurry to leave are directly responsible for the anarchy in the Middle East right now.

A generation of dictators has passed and has not left anything promising in its wake. Libya is on the cusp of a civil war; Syria is in the middle of it; Egypt has been taken over by the army once more; and Iraq continues to be torn apart. The Arab Spring has come to nought.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2014.

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COMMENTS (5)

Gratgy | 6 years ago | Reply

Another is Iran, which has become influential in Iraq ever since America’s departure, and is supporting Maliki’s sectarian regime. Of course, another is the US, whose boneheaded invasion in 2003 sped up Iraq’s descent into chaos.

Funny, the elephant in the room,Saudi Arabia, which is fuelling wahabbi sunnism including funding to ISIS in Iraq and Syria is curiously never mentioned anywhere

Sexton Blake | 6 years ago | Reply

@unbelievable: Dear unbelievable, You forgot a few thing in your analysis as usual. We really should get together before you send your submissions, and that way you may get it right. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of Mr. Maliki. After all, he did not bomb Iraq into the stone age, destroy all the water and electrical installations just to mention a few of the thousands of damaged items which are essential to a countries well being and infrastructure. In 2003 Iraq was well under control and almost at first world status under Saddam Hussein until the US and its puppets decided to invade and create incredible damage under the pretext that he had weapons of mass destruction. It is my understanding that the Americans are still looking for them 11 years later. Until 2011 the Americans did what they do best, other than destroying, which is creating complete turmoil, disarray, and a political system designed to fail. The US succeeded magnificently and Mr Maliki has been struggling ever since to overcome overwhelming problems. Let us hope that the new leader has more success than Mr Maliki, but with the problems inherited from the US sojourn in Iraq, plus constant covert, and not so covert, interference I have my doubts as to any Iraqi personage being allowed to achieve a successful outcome.

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