FIKRA FORUM : Managing the Crisis in Iraq

Kamal Al-Labwani – June 26, 2014 – Syrian Opposition Leader

Iraq is indeed falling apart and that is hardly surprising. Like most countries in the region, including Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, or even Saudi Arabia, Iraq is a fabricated entity whose borders were set by the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. But what caused the mounting crisis there?

In the aftermath of the American occupation of Iraq, there was widespread discrimination against the Iraqi Sunni community. Once excluded politically, Sunnis began to peacefully demonstrate against the government of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and were confronted in response with systematic and brutal oppression. This, in turn, sparked what we are witnessing in Iraq today: a Sunni rebellion. Naturally, the most extreme Sunnis are leading it, specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), given that moderates’ attempts at political change were suppressed and ignored over the last decade

 Maliki’s sectarian agenda has granted legitimacy to anyone who opposes his regime, regardless of their ideological bent. That includes ISIS, the militant group that has taken over swaths of the country. For many Sunnis, joining with ISIS seemed to be their last recourse, the only way of standing up to Maliki. They have agreed to ally with ISIS or may have even accepted its leadership in order to topple a common enemy.

 ISIS itself came back to Iraq after fighting in the Syrian civil war. Although it has limited manpower and has been mired in battles in Syria, its success on the ground in Iraq suggests that regional states and local groups are lending it help, at least indirectly, with planning and execution. ISIS has shown such a high level of organization and control that it brought about the dramatic crumbling of Iraq’s security and military apparatuses, including the Shiite-dominated army, which is trained and armed by the United States.In response to the Iraqi rebels’ dramatic advance, Iran is portraying the Sunni rebellion as a terrorist threat in order to push America into war on its side against Sunni Arabs and, eventually, put an end to American support for the revolutions in other Arab countries. This would help Iran continue its project of building a “Shiite crescent” in the Middle East. But the question now is whether we should stay on the sidelines, help Maliki and Iran achieve victory over “terrorism,” or help moderate revolutionaries in their fight for freedom.

From my perspective, in order to win the battle against Maliki and extremism, countries such as the United States must support moderate forces in Syria and Iraq to help them achieve their goals. Providing immediate help to the moderates — specifically those who are committed to fighting extremism and terrorism — in these two countries will build them up as strong alternatives to extremist groups. The United States must also help prevent al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups from using Sunni territories as launching pads for their attacks against other countries. Furthermore, keeping Iraq, or at least part of it, outside of Iran’s orbit would undermine Iranian ambitions and break the “Shiite crescent.”

These efforts should be part of a systematic and regional plan to help restore stability and build a political and economic federation, especially now that the Middle East is fracturing and the artificial borders of Sykes-Picot are fraying. Such a salvation project will likely pave the way toward building a foundation for a better future.

Dr. Kamal al-Labwani is a member of the Syrian opposition.