Category Archives: Iraq-Future

Who will fight for Iraq’s survival?

Who will fight for Iraq’s survival?

World powers will meet in Paris next week to consider prospects for ending the war in Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi

The Iraqis are aware that next week’s Paris conference will not produce the results needed to end the bloody conflict in their country. Nonetheless, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has decided to attend the meeting, clinging to the hope that something good may come out of the high-level discussions.

‌Sceptics fear that the international conference will be another public-relations ploy by the United States and other Western nations to conceal their failure in helping Iraqis rebuild their country more than 12 years after the US-led invasion.

‌Worse, the conference comes amid increasing signs that US President Barack Obama, who ends his term in office in 18 months, is buying time through the talks to adjust his anti-Islamic State (IS) strategy, while planning to dump the Iraqi conflict on the next US president.

‌French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said some of the 60 countries that are part of the US-led coalition fighting against the IS terror group are expected to participate in the conference to take place in Paris on 2 June.

‌A few days after the stunning seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, by IS militants last June, Washington said it was launching a military alliance to help the Iraqis drive the militants from the city and from other terrain captured by IS.

‌Washington said it would work with its partners to contain the IS militants and reverse their gains in Iraq and Syria. In Obama’s words, their strategy was to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the group.

‌Washington’s approach to the campaign has come under fire for being ineffective. The critics’ main complaint is that the Obama administration has no clear vision, suggesting that better strategic planning is needed to defeat IS.

‌Meanwhile, instead of being degraded the group has expanded in both Iraq and Syria. Its capture of the strategic Iraqi city of Ramadi and the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria in recent days has marked the latest in a series of setbacks for the US strategy.

‌Fabius said participants at the Paris meeting will “take stock of how the coalition wants to proceed” in Iraq, but he did not give details. He said that it was “not impossible” that Syria would also be part of the talks.

‌The last such talks were held in Paris in September and saw representatives from around 30 countries and international organisations meet in an attempt to come up with a strategy to combat IS and to determine what the roles of each would be in the US-led coalition.

‌Next week’s gathering comes amid mounting fears that IS militants will use their control of Ramadi and Palmyra to consolidate their gains in both Iraq and Syria and threaten the rest of the region.

‌For many critics, the fall of Ramadi amounts to a strategic defeat for the US-led coalition. It has raised a series of broader questions, not only about the viability of Washington’s approach in Iraq but also about its policies in the Middle East as a whole.

‌The key question now is whether the fall of Ramadi can serve as a wake-up call and if the world powers can handle the Iraqi crisis in a way different from the dozens of regional and international meetings on Iraq that have taken place since the US-led invasion in 2003.

‌It is unclear if the participants at the Paris summit will forge a new path against IS, apart from what is widely seen as the coalition’s ineffective bombing campaign to hit the militants in Iraq and Syria.

‌Washington has conceded that it is taking a “hard look” at its Iraq strategy after the fall of Ramadi, and it has said it will be streamlining the process for delivering weapons to Iraq and increasing the training of Iraqi troops.

‌But despite renewed calls from Republican rivals, such as Arizona Senator John McCain, to deploy US troops to help the Iraqis fight the terrorist group, the Obama administration is not expected to send combat soldiers to Iraq.

‌What Washington and other partners in the coalition are expected to offer in Paris is a renewal of their support for Al-Abadi’s government while restating their policy, which urges a more inclusive government in Iraq and the participation of the Sunnis in policing their areas.

‌What Washington needs to realise is that too much time has passed since it substituted action in Iraq with rhetoric. A close look at events in Iraq since the US troops were withdrawn in 2011 shows it now has fairly limited power in dictating what happens in Iraq.

‌Today, in an Iraq that is not conspicuously stage-managed by the United States, domestic and regional actors, including Iran and the Tehran-backed Shia militias, play pivotal roles. It is even difficult to imagine the magnitude of the forces working against, or at least not in line with, the United States policy in Iraq.

‌This probably puts into perspective remarks made by a senior administration official to Reuters on 18 May to the effect that the United States could support “all elements” of forces aligned against IS, including the Shia militias that are nominally under the Baghdad government’s control.

‌Washington had previously backed off from giving air support to what it considered Iranian-organised and -led operations dominated by Shia militias that answer to Tehran, and so this statement marks a departure from earlier policy.

‌It also underlines Washington’s decision to scrap earlier plans to supply Sunni tribes with weapons directly, without going through Baghdad. The United States has held back the delivery of much-needed weapons to the Iraqi army as an expression of displeasure at Al-Abadi’s hesitation to equip the Sunni tribes.

‌The most impressive sign of a retreat from taking responsibility for the setback in the war against the IS militants is accusations made by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter to the Iraqi armed forces, saying that they show “no will to fight” against the terror group.

‌Moreover, the United States has made little objection to Iranian forces taking an offensive role in operations to drive out IS militants from Beiji in recent days, in conjunction with Iraqi Shia militia.

‌The report of Iran entering the fight to retake this major Iraqi oil refinery, which came from US officials, was the first sign that Washington may have even dropped its opposition to Iranian participation in the war against IS.

‌What all this says about the shape of things to come after the so-called adjustment of US strategy after the spectacular fall of Ramadi is that Obama has no real intention of shifting course and seems determined to leave the war in Iraq to his successor.

‌In a recent briefing by a senior State Department official, the administration sent the clearest message yet to the Iraqis that no drastic change is to be expected in the anti-IS strategy before the end of Obama’s term in January 2017.

‌“I think some of the timeframes that might’ve been announced by various folks over the course of this thing might’ve been a little bit unrealistic. It’s three years: a three-year campaign, three years to degrade,” the official was quoted as saying at the special briefing posted on the State Department’s website.

‌This leaves the question why the Paris summit is being held, and whether or not this will be another pointless endeavour. Though the agenda of the meeting has not been made public, it is widely expected to be an attempt to breathe life into the dormant coalition.

‌Most of the coalition’s 60 members have not done much to fight IS, despite repeated US urging for them to play a more active role. Some of the countries that deployed aircraft at the beginning of the campaign have also since pulled back.

‌Nevertheless, the Obama administration seems to be keen on keeping the outfit working, ostensibly to portray coalition partners as reliable supporters in the crisis.

‌In the meantime, no one knows how the Iraq government will benefit from the high-level conference in Paris. Three previous coalition meetings have ended with many political statements but few tangible commitments.

‌The stunning fall of Ramadi and the Obama administration’s hesitation to come to the aid of the Iraqi forces should have taught the Iraqi government the lesson that it must now work according to its own schedule.

‌If the Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, no one else will either.

The looming Iraq disaster

The looming Iraq disaster

As Iraq remains bogged down with the war against IS, another catastrophe could be on the horizon, writes Salah Nasrawi

The Iraqi government is considering a set of measures to deal with the crushing financial crisis, which many fear could lead to economic collapse and accelerate the breakup of the divided and war-torn country.

Under the plans to stave off default, the government of Haider Al-Abadi will seek foreign loans, issue bonds and sell parts of Iraq’s huge oil reserves. It also plans to overhaul the economy and get rid of the socialist-era sectors inherited from Saddam Hussein’s era.

But doubts abound that an emergency fund based on international credits or a government bond-selling programme would ease the burden on the Iraqi economy, hard hit by lower oil prices, government inefficiency and rampant corruption.

Selling the country’s national resources could also trigger popular resentment against the government’s oil policies and gives credence to claims that Iraq’s invasion in 2003 was to improve Western access to Iraqi oil.

Falling oil prices since last year has wrecked Iraq’s state finances. Iraq’s 2015 annual budget has projected a deficit of some $25 billion and forced the government to struggle to balance and fund its public spending and stabilize the national currency.

Under the budget law the government is to meet part of the deficit by introducing new taxes, levies and duties. Obligatory saving accounts are also to be opened for senior government officials to deposit part of their salaries. The government also decided to turn to the Central Bank reserves.

Iraq’s government, however, has not disclosed full details about its plans to deal with the financial crisis. Prime Minister Al-Abadi has even been insisting that Iraq is not facing a default but only financial difficulties due to plummeting oil prices.

While Al-Abadi appears to be either in a state of denial or lacking direct experience in financial affairs, his finance minister, Hoshyar Zebari, seems to be the one who is making most of the talking about Iraq’s plans to manage the financial crisis.

Last month Zebari disclosed that Iraq is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and is seeking millions of dollars both in an emergency loan programme and by using Iraq’s Special Drawing Rights at the IMF.

Zebari later said Iraqi is seeking an aid package from the IMF that could total as much as $700 million in emergency assistance, a relatively small amount that indicates the sharp deterioration in Iraq’s financial conditions.

According to Zebari, the Iraqi government has also agreed for the first time to issue $5 billion in international bonds as part of a package to restore fiscal suitability and address its budget deficit. He disclosed that Iraq is negotiating with Citibank and Deutsche Bank.

In addition to the international credits and bond issue and a local-currency bond issue, Iraq is planning other measures, including a drastic shift in its policies.

Zebari said Iraq is planning to change the way it operates exploration and production contracts with oil companies. The switch will move Iraq for the first time to production- sharing contracts, where revenues are divided in a percentage split, from service contracts where oil companies are paid a set fee.

Moreover, one of the steps under consideration is to get rid of hundreds of state-owned enterprises, which employ some half a million workers. In one dramatic statement last month, Zebari described these companies as an “absolute failure.”

In its efforts to lower the deficit and cut spending, Iraq’s parliament approved in January a belt-tightening budget that reduced the lavish spending, such as generous allowances, travel and office expenses.

It also resorted to withdrawals from the country’s reserves, estimated at the time at $75 billion. Reports this week suggested that the national reserve has hit a new low at $60 billion.

But the worst part of the financial crisis is its overall impact on the war against the Islamic State (IS) terror group which has occupied vast swathes of territories in Iraq since June last year.

The campaign against IS has been slammed by cuts in spending, including the government’s inability to buy necessary supplies and pay salaries to tens of thousands of recruits in the Popular Mobilization Force, the Shia paramilitary force set to join the fight.

In March, Al-Abadi made a visit to the White House to make an urgent request of billions of dollars in financial and military aid from President Barack Obama for the ongoing campaign against IS. Abadi argued that the budget shortfall has hampered his government’s ability to mount military challenges to IS strongholds in northern and western Iraq.

Still, Al-Abadi returned empty handed after the Obama administration turned down the request. To make a bad situation worse, the US House Armed Services Committee passed a law last week which imposed preconditions on funding for the Iraqi security forces over the next year.

Shortages of funding is also blocking the government from restoring basic services to those towns that have been reclaimed by Iraqi force from IS. Iraq is now turning to the World Bank for help in financing development projects in these areas that suffer from a lack of infrastructure, education and health services.

Many economists and many Iraqis blame much of the financial crisis on Al-Abadi’s government and that of his predecessor, Nuri Al-Maliki, whom they accuse of mismanagement and widespread corruption.

Even with increasing fear of financial crash, Iraq’s Central Bank is still holding daily auctions through which hard currency is sold to banks, companies and traders in exchange for evidence of import and transaction receipts.

Last week, Abdel Basit Turki, Iraq’s ex-chief auditor and former Central Bank governor, told Al-Baghdadiya Television that most of these banks are phonies set up by corrupt politicians to target the foreign currency sales.

He said during his tenure as Central Bank head from 2011 to 2015 some $12 billion were skimmed from the Iraqi reserve and transferred outside Iraq using false documents.

Writing on his Facebook account, Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the parliamentary Finance Committee, disclosed that one Iraqi trader alone had made such transactions of $1.2 billion to a company in the United Arab Emirates over a one-year period.

Now Zebari’s disclosures are sounding the alarm that the country may be facing a slow-death scenario. The question remains, however, if the intended measures could prevent Iraq going bankrupt and stop the violence-ravaged country from sliding into further instability.

It is also not clear if these plans were reviewed and sanctioned by the government and whether they will be put for debate and endorsement by the parliament.

Some of the measures such as selling Iraq’s oil reserves and introducing production-sharing contracts, seem to be controversial. Many Iraqis believe that they will be conceding sovereign wealth to foreign companies.

There are growing concerns that compliance with the IMF conditions unveiled by Zebari, further cuts in spending and foreign borrowing will result in worse scenarios. Iraqis are already hard hit by high prices, rising inflation and a high rate of currency depreciation.

In the meantime, Iraq’s oil production policy seems in disarray. While Iraq’s oil exports rose in April to a record 3.08 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2.98 million bpd in March, the country is not expected to raise much higher revenues as crude prices remain low.

At the same time, Iraq’s bill for paying foreign companies operating in Iraq under service contracts regime, created by the US occupation authority following the 2003 invasion, based on a fixed dollar fee per unit, has ballooned just as its oil revenues fall.

The Iraqi financial crisis is widely seen as largely the result of the massive corruption and economic mismanagement of its political elite and not the plunge in oil prices.

While Iraq remains mired in sectarian strife, an economic crash will be detrimental to the country’s future. There would likely be ramifications that would significantly impact the war against IS and the country’s unity.

Is Obama’s strategy failing?

Is Obama’s strategy failing?

The collapse of the US-led coalition against Islamic State forces in Iraq could only be a matter of time, writes Salah Nasrawi

When US President Barack Obama’s envoy to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, retired US general John Allen, visited the country last week, his discussions with government leaders were not short of moments of frankness.

Allen was told by the country’s Shia and Sunni leaders that the coalition needs to do more to help Iraq defeat the terror group that has seized large areas in the north and west of the country and in neighbouring Syria.

Shia Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi told the American official that the US-led coalition should “increase the tempo of the effective air strikes on IS positions.” He also called for US-sponsored training of the Iraqi security forces to be expanded, according to his office.

Sunni Parliamentary Speaker Salim Al-Jabouri was even more vocal in his criticisms. “Until now our feeling has been that the international support is not convincing,” Al-Jabouri was quoted by Reuters as telling Allen.

The grievances listed by Iraqi leaders included ineffective air strikes against IS, poor coordination with the Iraqi military command, limited combat training of Iraqi soldiers, and a lack of intelligence and weapon supplies. But their main concern remains the political strategy of the US campaign against IS.

As expected, leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north have remained fully behind the international coalition, though they continue to complain about shortages of military supplies.

After the blitzkrieg carried out by IS in Iraq last June, Obama declared that US warplanes and an international coalition he had assembled would conduct a systematic campaign of air strikes against the militants while Iraqi ground forces went on the offensive.

Obama ruled out any direct combat involvement by US soldiers in Iraq, but promised a military package of aid that would include weapons deliveries, intelligence and training.

What began to be called the Obama Strategy for Iraq also entailed a political approach that called for national reconciliation among the country’s communities. The plans was to end Sunni exclusion by the Shia-led government and give the Sunnis an autonomy that included the policing of their own areas after taking them back from IS.

Obama made it clear that the US would take action against IS in Syria by training and arming the moderate opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad to enable it to fight IS militants and expel them from Syria.

Last week’s unexpected criticisms by the Baghdad government came as doubts started to emerge in the US media about the air strikes that the US and its allies have been conducting against IS targets in Iraq and Syria.

Critics of the air strikes point out that most of the territories the militants have captured since their major onslaught in mid-June, including major Sunni-populated cities, are still under IS control. In Syria, IS continues to gain ground and threatens key cities like Aleppo and Homs.

Though the US and its allies have continued pounding IS targets, the IS advance in Iraq has been largely contained by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias and the Iraqi security forces. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have also retaken territories that they claim belong to the Kurdish region.

Before leaving Baghdad last week, Allen attempted to respond to Iraqi concerns. He said the coalition has made “important progress” and reiterated Washington’s commitment to helping Iraq in the war against IS, including by carrying out air strikes, supplying weapons and training Iraqi troops.

Allen urged Iraqis to show “patience” and made it clear that “the pivotal battles” to defeat the terror group have not yet come. He reiterated Washington’s position that the defeat of IS does not depend solely on military success and urged Al-Abadi to deliver on his promise of “security reforms, advancing national reconciliation, and revitalising Iraq’s ties with its neighbours.”

The Obama Strategy is also irking some US Arab allies. The Arab media have been reporting a dispute between the United States and its Arab coalition partners over the anti-IS strategy in Iraq and Syria. On Saturday, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported from Amman that Arab US allies would now prefer an Arab-Islamic alliance to go after IS instead of the US-led coalition, which also includes Western powers.

The paper quoted Arab Gulf officials as saying that many Arab partners believe that Washington does not seem to be “serious in conducting radical operations to uproot IS, or at least weakening it on the ground.”

Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, want to include Yemen in the coalition’s mission and engage it in the fight against the Shia Houthis, who have taken control of the capital Sanaa. Other reports suggested that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are concerned that a deal between Washington and Iran over its nuclear programme might affect Washington’s response to Tehran’s ambitions in Iraq.

Syrian opposition forces are also expressing increasing frustration with the Obama Strategy. Burhan Ghalyoun, a former leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), slammed Obama’s strategy in an interview with the Al-Arabiya TV network, saying that the plan to train moderate Syrian opposition forces is “a delaying tactic.”

The Obama approach is also coming under fire in Washington. Republican leaders have criticised Obama’s reluctance to engage militarily with IS. They have also questioned his “Iraq first” war, which they charge has enabled IS to make gains in Syria without weakening it in Iraq.

From the beginning, the Obama anti-IS strategy has come under fire for being weak and lacking in focus. Critics have pointed to its military flaws, such as the use of limited air to defeat a formidable terror group that controls large areas and enjoys local support.

To date, eight months into the seizure of most of Iraq’s so-called Sunni Triangle, IS militants have been able to stave off offensives intended to dislodge them from the safe havens they have established. They have also lured more foreign fighters into their ranks and sent terror threats to countries as far away as Europe and the United States.

The failure of the American military to achieve victory over IS, or even to degrade its combat capabilities, has indicated that critics were right to discount aerial bombardment as an effective strategy to defeat the group.

Obama’s political approach has also been challenged for being naïve in the way it looks at the geopolitical complexities of Iraq and the region. Its main flaw lies in its dealing with IS as merely a terrorism issue, while ignoring the deep ethnic and sectarian conflicts that divide the region.

A closer look at the war in Iraq reveals that the Shia-led government is not managing the fight against IS in the way that Washington had intended. Baghdad may still need US air power, advanced weapons and good intelligence capabilities, but it has been fighting the war in its own way.

It has depended largely on Shia Iran to repel IS advances. Tehran has sent military advisors to help train and equip troops and allied militias to drive the IS militants out of territories occupied in central Iraq.

As the conflict has demonstrated, Baghdad has made up for the need for dedicated army and security forces soldiers by mobilising well-trained and battle-tested Shia militias in the fight against IS. After routing IS militants in cities and towns in the Baghdad belt and the mixed Diyalah province, the government is now deploying Shia militias in Sunni-dominated areas in preparation for a counter-offensive.

Last week, Kurdish media outlets said that the government dispatched “several brigades of Shia militias” to the highly volatile and disputed Kirkuk province, reportedly to protect towns populated by Shia Turkmens.

On Saturday, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Shia militias had arrived in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province and that they were expected to fight alongside Sunni tribes allied with the government against IS.

Significantly, Baghdad has been reluctant to allow the Sunni tribes to form national guard units to fight IS militants and police their own areas after retaking them from the group. Plans to launch national reconciliation that would fully integrate Sunnis into the government have also foundered.

Both the Sunni forces and the Sunni inclusion were prerequisites for the US-led mission and for sustainable US support for Baghdad, accepted by Al-Abadi when he was nominated to form his partnership government in August.

What all this means, at best, is that the US-led coalition will remain the décor for Obama’s wishy-washy partnership with Iraq. At worst, it means that Washington will try to find an exit strategy in order to suspend the coalition and leave Iraq once again to its fate.

This article appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly on Jan. 22, 2015


Milestone year in Iraq

Milestone year in Iraq
Violence and political deadlock exacerbated the chaos in Iraq this year, writes Salah Nasrawi

It has been another hard year for Iraq and it is not over yet. After suffering eleven tough years of political disputes and communal violence, Iraq entered 2014 with a major crisis that later escalated into a total turmoil.
With the country standing on a cross road, as civil war spirals, the question is whether Iraq will be able to cope with more turbulent years and their potential consequences or 2015 will be a decisive year for Iraq and its unity.
Early in the year violence soared when Sunni extremist insurgents seized large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah after government forces dismantled a Sunni Muslim protest camps. The crisis started in December 2012, when tens of thousands of Sunnis began protesting against what they saw as the marginalisation of their sect and demanded equal sharing in power and wealth.
By late December 2013, former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki was claiming that a protest camp in Ramadi had been turned into the headquarters of the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as IS was formerly known, and ordered a crackdown. As security forces backed by their Sunni tribesmen allies battled rebels in Ramadi and Fallujah, fighters attempted to take control of many Sunni–populated areas around Baghdad, unleashing a broader Sunni insurgency.
As the Shia-Sunni standoff soared, Kurdish relations with the Baghdad Shia-led government further deteriorated. The political Shia-Kurdish discord worsened after the two sides failed to resolve their lingering disputes over energy resources, budget allotments and territorial ambitions. The year has seen Kurds starting selling their oil independently from Iraq, a move widely considered as a further step toward Kurdish secession from Iraq.
In early 2014, however, Kurdish leaders started talking about breaking away from Iraq if their problems remain unsolved. Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani warned that the Kurds will seek independence if the new relationship with Baghdad does not stand the test of time.
It has long been assumed that the failure of Shia and Sunnis to resolve their disputes would create conditions conducive for Kurds to break away from Iraq. That moment came after IS advance in mid-June and its capture of large swathes of Iraq territories. Kurds swiftly used the conflict and moved to expand their control over areas along their provinces.
The surge in the Sunni insurgency and worsening of Shia-Kurdish disputes deepened the ethnic-sectarian divide a head of a crucial parliamentary election which was scheduled for April.
The indecisive election results plunged the country in another crisis as an alliance headed by Al-Maliki was declared as having received the largest number of seats in the parliament. Kurds, Sunnis and many Shia groups refused to allow Al-Maliki to have a third term in office accusing him of being behind the worsening political ructions and sectarian violence.
When Al-Maliki finally stepped down under pressure, Iraqis pinned their hope on his successor Haider Al-Abadi not only to repair the dysfunctional government of corruption, cronyism and incompetence left over by Al-Maliki but to save Iraq from falling into the abyss.
A dramatic turn of events came in mid-June when the IS terror group and allied Sunni militants captured the northern city of Mosul in a lightening offensive. Soon IS took several other Sunni cities and declared a Caliphate that also included territories in Syria and sought to expand in the Islamic world.
One of the consequences of the IS’s rise and its threat to Baghdad and Shia-populated cities was the resurgence of Shia militia forces which took arms to fight back. Though the militias were reportedly involved in sectarian violations, including abductions and massacres against Sunnis, their role has become formidable in spearheading the fight against IS.
The turbulence, meanwhile, deepened Iraq’s refugee problem as hundred of thousands had to leave their homes following the IS’s onslaught to escape violence and sometimes war crimes. According to the UN refugee agency some 1.9 million have been displaced this year by fighting and the advance of Islamic State, adding to 1 million previously displaced, and 190,000 who have left the country to seek safety.
By any account, 2014 is another turning point year in Iraq’s history since the US invasion in 2003. Indeed, Iraq is unraveling more than three years after the US troop withdrawal, with this year being the country’s most violent since 2006-2007, the peak of the sectarian strife that followed the invasion.
The conflict has also worsened the human right situation in Iraq as the country saw more grave rights violations perpetrated by IS and the Shia militias that have reportedly led to the deaths of thousands of people. More than 10.000 people were believed to have been killed this year in violence across Iraq while thousands others have been killed in fight with IS.
Aided by the US-international coalition, Iraq may eventually defeat IS. But a military campaign may take several years and could be costly. Also, It could do the opposite: prolong the war, guarantee more human suffering, and serve the interests of IS and Shia extremists.
While the cost of the war against IS will be enormous, the most urgent question remains what are the impacts and the consequences of the dramatic events in 2014 on the direction which the country will be heading. Since the US invasion Sunnis have deeply felt excluded and marginalized. The standoff has deepened the schism between the two Muslim communities. This is why even if a sort of military strategy will defeat IS, the question remains whether Iraq will go back again to be a unitary nation.
There is a general consensus that the war against IS will repair nothing and that a political agreement is needed in Iraq; one that will ensure the creation of a new political structure that will replace the hopelessly dysfunctional ethno-sectarian based political system created by the Americans for the post-Saddam era.
Iraq is crumbling not just because violence is playing havoc in the country, but also because there has been no breakthrough in the sectarian deadlock that has paralyzed its government for so long. Iraq is a failed nation and one main reason for its dysfunction is because it is pillaged by its own corrupt and inefficient leadership.
Unless there is a working system that guarantees competence and transparency in the government and inclusion within a just state that will deal with all Iraqis as equal citizens, there will be no peace or stability in the country.
The United States and many in the international community have made getting an Iraqi government that is inclusive and credible as a prerequisite to help Iraq in the war against IS. They have been insisting on a comprehensive national reconciliation that will end the ethno-sectarian divide in order to provide additional assistance to beat back IS.
To help secure long-term stability in Iraq and reunite its people, such a proposal would need to go beyond the immediate communal and regional agendas; indeed, it would have to be a new grand bargain for a new Iraq. The current system based on sharing power between Kurdish, Shia and Sunni elites is increasingly proving to be meaningless, as they continue to produce sectarianism instead of genuine democracy and the rule of the people.
Human history shows that nations emerge from conflicts. Iraqis are no exception and they can face the challenge of reestablishing ethnic and sectarian coexistence after the destructive conflicts that have befallen their country. The question, however, are current Iraqi leaders ready to relinquish self interests and greed for a historic compromise that will allow Iraq to be ruled by all Iraqis.
Iraq is now three enclaves separated by geography, sectarian and ethnic identities. While Kurds have taken advantage of IS crisis to consolidate their semi-independent region, the gap between Shia and Sunnis is ever widening, highlighting the negative trends that serve as a catalyst to the implosion of the Arab-dominated part of Iraq.
In a situation like this where a political vacuum keeps ethno- sectarian divides persist, a process of reconciling the stakeholders around a new balance of power is not enough and a historic compromise has to be made in order change Iraq’s lots and deliver a true national unity and a genuine comprehensive inclusive system.
For Iraq’s civil strife, 2014 was the year when competing communities carried their sectarian and ethnic resentments to a high pitch, but could it be a turning point to subdue their maximalist tendencies and push forward for accommodation.Much will depend on Iraq’s political elites who should give up their violent ethno-sectarian approach to power.