A deluge- a tsunami- of calamity-driven headlines has bombarded the realm of News as of late, like drones showering us with evermore dire, harrowing reports on the Middle East’s cancerous state. Encircled by Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, The Republic (a deceitful appellation) of Iraq is yet another niche of inbred antagonisms, cardling a lineage of bloody feuds, predatory systems of rule, and religious extremism. The Golden Eagle, the emblem of an embellished illusion, of a united Iraq is been butchered.
One by one, nations in the Middle-East seem to fall from their sovereign heights. The region’s turmoil is but a web of interweaving, tectonic conflicts each re-kindling the fiery flames of the other. The Sunnis and Sh’ias rift, Al-Quaeda, Nusra and ISIS’s discord, the Kurdish issue, the Israel-Palestinian protracted vendetta…Syria at Iraq’s doorstep has evidently been a dying nation for the last 3 years. A decaying corpse upon which voracious vultures such as jihadists fractions have flocked onto for decades prior to and during the civil war.
In a show of power ISIS and Nusra have been interlocked in their mésentente regarding Al-Quaeda linkages and ideology. They have unrelentingly scavenged, plundered and continuously scrambled for the shredded bits of Syria’s human capital, oil, land, and weaponry. Competition is rife within a splintered jihadist community as the each faction have vied with zeal for the establishment of their supremacy. Analysts go so far as to compare “al Zawahiri as Leon Trotsky, the less ruthless and more theoretical Bolshevik leader; and for al Baghdadi read pitiless Stalin, the harder-nosed, pragmatic, revolutionary who banished and murdered his rivals to establish an iron-fisted dictatorship.”
Al Baghdadi—now known as Amir al-Mu’minin Caliph Ibrahim proclaimed on 29 June 2014 a caliphate (meaning “succession”, it is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph “successor”) fuelled by his hereditary ambition of uniting the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq and Syria. It was reported in June 2014 by The Economist that “ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe”. A true army of fidels on the march.
In this bold power grabbing calculus, the announcement’s flat-out demand that all other jihadist groups are religiously obligated to pledge loyalty to ISIS has aggravated the bloodshed and disastrous political vacuum which continues to prevail as I am writing.
A real theatre of war, a genuine hecatomb, The Middle-East is once again succumbing to the backlash of the deep-rooted schisms that have been etched in its botched History of civil wars, occupation, foreign meddling, ethnic-religious hatred, venal governments: a history of people’s sufferings. And History matters. The Middle East tragically encapsulates the saying: “The more it changes, the more it stays the same” and Iraq has WAR imprinted in its DNA. Swathes of land may change hands, children will grow, but the broad frontlines are metastases and will remain unhinged for years-sentencing thousands to their deathbed.
Indeed, in the Middle Ages Iraq was the heartland of the Islamic Empire, but a brutal Mongol invasion in the 13th century destroyed its importance. Then, the following British Occupation, The Iraq War, with interludes of recurrent insurgencies and civil wars, has moulded a nation destined to live with seemingly intractable political, ethnic and religious scars. The brimming embers left by decades, even centuries, of political volatility, social discontent, warfare, and the ensuing socio-political predicaments, have been rekindled by a new wave of unabated sectarian violence.
Indeed, the relics of the Iraq war have favoured the rise of ISIS throughout the years. By liberating and empowering Iraq’s Shiite majority, the Bush administration helped ignite a broad Shiite revival that will upset the sectarian balance in Iraq and the Middle East for years to come. In 2007-2008, the American-dubbed “Surge” was capitalized on intra-Shiite and intra-Sunni struggles to help decrease violence and pull Iraq out of a first instance of civil war, grotesquely failed to eradicate the root causes of the conflict. The utopia of embedding a democratic peace was materialised in the simulacra of 2011 elections and the succeeding nine months of political wrangling which breathed life into a stunted, unhealthy, inconclusive Shia government-new-born. The long-term result bears the dystopian features.
What does this state of oblivion spell for Iraq’s future?
Three plausible scenarios surface, yet each woefully oscillates on the “yes but..” hypothesis. Realistically, all scenarios are riven with uncertainty, and seemed doomed to plateau as short-term, wavering and inconsistent solutions. The first scenario is that one party wins. The Second chants the words of partition. The Third preaches of the birth of a federation. The last alternative seems to be the Lesser of Three Evils, averting the risk of a protracted, costly, Syrian-style quagmire if both Sunni and Shi’s militias started climbing territory and Kurds take the opportunity for a robust push towards independence. Engineering a new Iraqi government that Kurds, Shi’a and moderate Sunnis can all embrace, so that they can then wage a unified military campaign (with American support) against ISIS and the other Sunni militant groups, is deemed by to be the “best”, safest outcome for all concerned. Yet, the one-country-two-system, a federalism-confederalism Iraq is sure to be prone by complex dysfunctionalities but the most daunting part rests in the actual act of agreement between Iraq’s various warring factions. Zalmay Khalilzad, ex-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Military analyst at the CIA, draws the conclusion that “the question is not how to put humpty dumpty back together again, but merely what can be made of the broken pieces.”