The new realities in Iraq

04 July, 2014 | Posted By: Andrestinos Papadopoulos

By Dr. Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos, Ambassador a.h.

Again Iraq, but this time with different players. The fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have already conquered north western Iraq getting as spoils the cities of Mosul, Faludja and Tikrit. Now, they fight to conquer Baghdad as well. ISIL, whose objective is to establish an Islamic caliphate, emerged in 2004 following the chaos of invasion and the mistakes of the Shiite leadership which came to power. Operating in Syria as well since 2013, ISIL claims to have under its command more than 15,000 fighters who come from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries and even Europe (Britain and Germany). ISIL’s successes are due to its cohesiveness and strong command, as well as the support it enjoys among the Sunni population, oppressed by the government of PM al-Maliki. Facing an undisciplined, disorganised and divided along sectarian lines Iraqi army, it was not difficult for 800 ISIL fighters to win against 30,000 of Iraqi soldiers in Mosul.
As to how developments reached this stage, we get an easy answer. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain and France set the frontiers in the region, ignoring ethnic and religious differences. Thus, Syria and Iraq were born, the first with Alewites (Shiites) in power and Sunni majority, the second with Sunnis in power and Shiite majority. After the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, Shiites came to power having as their allies the Kurds of northern Iraq, but oppressing the rights of the Sunni minority.
After the departure of the Americans in 2011, many matters remained unsettled. This is the case with the revision of the Constitution, the equitable share of financial resources, the clear-cut definition of the relations between the central authority and the provinces, etc. The jihadists of ISIL took advantage of this situation and launched their lightning assault.
These new realities brought to the fore new players and new interests. Within the country, the 5 million Kurds, who are self-ruled since 2003, recaptured their own territory using the Peshmerga (Kurdish militias) and took full control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they consider their historic capital (today’s capital is Erbil). It is considered that Kirkuk’s capture eliminates their main incentive to remain part of Iraq. Abroad, Iran becomes a major player for many reasons. In the first place it is considered as a factor of stability in the wider region, if we take into account what is happening in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Willing to strengthen its Shiite allies in Iraq against the jihadists, Iran found itself on the same side with Turkey and the United States. Turkey, following ISIL’s capture of the Turkish Consulate in Mosul and its taking of consulate staff as hostages, sided with Iran against ISIL, although in the Syrian civil war they support opposing sides. The United States, considering developments in Iraq as a great national security threat, initially did not exclude air strikes against the jihadists. It seems, however, that now they are having second thoughts on how far they should go along with Iran, given the reaction of Israel and the Arab countries of the Gulf.
In view of the above, the possibility of having three states in Iraq, dismembering the country is apparent. To avoid this development the United States insist on having an inclusive government in which Kurds and Sunnis will participate, securing in particular the rights of the Sunni minority. All depend on how things will go in the battle field and the willingness of PM al-Maliki to accept a government of national unity. Time will show whether the fait-accomplis will be consolidated or reversed, given the fact that new players are gradually entering into the picture.