Imagine a country the size of Washington DC being attacked by terrorists and forced to vacate overnight. The terrorists then show no signs of respite, continuing their march towards the capital displacing close to 500,000 people and gaining control over key cities and posing a serious threat to chemical and oil refineries, crucial to the country’s economy. This is exactly what has been happening over the past few weeks in the war torn country at the heart of the Middle East.
The Republic of Iraq, a 169,234 sq km, stretch of land lies sandwiched between Syria, Turkey Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Its proximity to so many of the Middle East’s countries as well as the huge amounts of oil it possesses makes it crucial to both global security and global economy. The Iraqis are predominantly Muslim by faith with a clear internal differentiation between the Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds. The federal government of Iraq is defined under Article 1, Section of the current Constitution as an Islamic democratic, federal, parliamentary Islamic Republic. Over the last few weeks however, ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an active jihadist militant group has taken over large tracts of northern Iraq and has rendered the Iraq- Syria border effectively useless. This article aims to examine the exponential growth that ISIS has seen and bases it on a revitalized agenda of sectarian politics by strengthening the Sunni – Shia divide. Further, it argues that any sort of permanent solution in Iraq has to be predicated on a completely revamped form of governance to make Iraqi politics more inclusive and diverse.
ISIS was established in early 2004 under the leadership of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. and initially existed as a faction of the Al Qaeda. In October 20014, Al Zarquawi, following a series of negotiations swore loyalty to Osama Bin Laden and turned his organization into what effectively became, Bin Laden’s Iraqi presence. Eventually ISIS broke off from Al Qaeda and played a largely independent role in the war in Syria. Under its new leader Abu – Bakr al Baghadadi, the group has now focused its energies on establishing a caliphate that stretches across Iraq and includes Syria. Over the past few weeks, Mosul, Tikrit and Baiji have fallen with ISIS imposing the Sharia law across the regions it now controls. The sudden resurgence of the organization is no fluke. ISIS now commands great respect and acceptance among those within its ranks by playing the age old Suuni – Shia card and reviving old ideological differences.
The Sunni- Shia conflict which has its origins in the succession battle that succeeded the death of Prophet Mohammed has now evolved into the modern day war for power over State Resources. A majority of Iraqi Muslims are Sunni and tend to be more traditional and advocate for an Islamist State. However, ISIS’s often indiscriminate targeting which has left even a large section of the Sunni population homeless has left the general Sunni population unhappy despite common ideologies. The Sunni ISIS therefore, took advantage of a growing perception among the Iraqis that Sunnis were being unfairly treated by the current Shia dominated government. To reinforce this belief, they chose to invoke memories of the erstwhile Hussain administration. They characterized themselves as the extremist Sunni response to the extremist Shia response that followed the Sunni repression of the Shias under Sadam Hussain.
What is surprising however, is the extent to which ISIS has thrived on such sectarian politics. The group not only uses the Shia – Sunni card to justify its acts and garner popular support but has also reportedly played the same card in order to attract funds from Saudi Arabian donors sympathetic to Sunni oppression. Making the situation worse are the divisive policies seeking to shut out the Sunnis by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s administration. The past few weeks have seen the Iraqi parliament scramble to regroup and from a new government. Time however is short and civilian lives are being lost with every passing day.
The most important answers to Iraq’s troubles must come from within. Internally cohesive political will which translates into embracing all of Iraq’s multicultural people is the answer. The new Iraqi government must go beyond empty words and promises. The primary objective must not only be to form an inclusive government but also one that guarantees such inclusiveness. Structurally envisaging a political formula which guarantees such inclusiveness is the key. Shared control over the State’s key ministries and an equal representation in other areas of public service such as key posts in the State’s Army , Intelligence Agencies and so on will not only give the Sunni’s their share, but also the confidence in building a shared future for all of Iraq’s people. As Bob Marley once famously sang, “None but ourselves can free our minds” . The war in Iraq will go on only as long as the Iraqis refuse to fight it. But sometimes, the end to our greatest battles is only found within us.
About the Author
Lakshana CV is a law student at National Law University, Jodhpur with a keen interest in International Relations and the changing global order. She will be writing on key developments in International Affairs with a specific focus on Security and Counter Insurgency issues.