The writing on the wall

By : Hassan Barari

It was obvious from the get go that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) would always seek to reignite the conflict between the disgruntled Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Nuri Al-Maliki. Therefore, it is not about the sudden collapse of the Iraqi Army in the latest confrontation with ISIL — which stunned observers. Rather it is about the root causes behind the recurring sectarian conflict in Iraq.

Were it not for Al-Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian style of ruling, ISIL would not have flourished in Sunni provinces in the first place. Following the US withdrawal from Iraq, Al-Maliki became under the control of Tehran. This fact led many Sunni figures in Iraq to conclude that Al-Maliki’s exclusive and sectarian policies are in line with Iran’s regional policy. Not only has Al-Maliki discriminated against Sunnis, but he has also persecuted many Sunni leaders who took part in the political process. Amid this charged political and security atmosphere, it is logical for many Sunnis to turn to any organization that could check Al-Maliki from further maltreating them.

With the collapse of Al-Maliki’s troops in the latest battles with the ISIL, Al-Maliki turned to Tehran and Washington for help. He employed the terrorist card to secure the aid of the United States. Of course, the US has always seen the ISIL as a threat to its interest. But President Obama has a different understanding. He argues that the failure of Al-Maliki in ruling Iraq effectively and his failure to effect political reconciliation with the Sunnis has turned Iraq to a fertile ground for the ISIL and like-minded groups. In his latest statement, Obama said that his country would hold any possible military action in Iraq in abeyance until Iraq reforms its politics and government. To be sure, the US will not have boots on the ground.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the Obama administration does not think that Baghdad is about to fall to ISIL. For this reason, Obama is looking for long-term gains. The US “is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” Obama said.

Obama believes that any American intervention on behalf of Al-Maliki government without the latter’s political concessions could trigger an all-out sectarian war. This possibility is the most dangerous for the region. But by the same token, an American inaction could pave the way for Iran’s intervention thus triggering a sectarian conflagration.

Implicit in Obama’s message is that Al-Maliki’s days are numbered. If anything, Al-Maliki has become the obstacle to achieving stability in Iraq. The American administration knows very well that Al-Maliki has for long time abused the Sunni minority. His unwillingness to accommodate the interests of Sunnis, Kurds, and other groups in Iraq could not be more obvious. For Al-Maliki and his supporters, the Shiites just have the golden opportunity to seize almost everything. Therefore, all power-sharing initiatives fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, Al-Maliki and his supports are still in a state of denial. To make matters worse, he turned to his Shiite allies to mobilize Iraqis behind him. On Friday, the stage was set for a major sectarian conflict when the most influential Shiite cleric pleaded Iraqis to take up arms against Sunnis. In other words, Al-Maliki is turning to those figures that can only make the case for a sectarian conflict.

Seen in this way, it is obvious that Al-Maliki is using whatever card he can use to survive politically. Therefore, his tactics and the cleric’s pleas are at odds with Obama’s approach and understanding of how to make Iraq stable. If anything, this Iraq government is a major part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.




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