Key Factors Driving Iraq’s ISIL Crisis

18 July 2014 | 04:21 Code : 1935965 Review General category
By: Abdollah Ghanbarloo
Key Factors Driving Iraq’s ISIL Crisis

The lightning advance of the ISIL terrorists in Iraq has caused a new wave of national security problems in Iraq and a big threat to the stability of the region. The so-called “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL or “DAESH” in Arabic) is a jihadist group that claims to try to re-establish a new transnational Caliphate state based on Islamic law (Sharia) in Iraq and the Eastern Mediterranean. ISIL’s strategy of dominance is a bright example of the end justifying the means. The group has released photos of incidents in which armed men are carrying out brutal mass executions of Iraqi soldiers. The organization was previously known as part of al-Qaeda that has been responsible for numerous attacks and blasts targeting security forces and mainly Shiite civilians.

Many observers believe Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the main cause of the crisis in Iraq, because non-Shiite citizens especially Arab Sunnis feel marginalized, excluded, and neglected by his government. Furthermore, Iraq under Maliki has become an ally and political instrument of Iran, meaning an unpleasant situation for both Arab Sunnis and Kurds. In this process, some of the opponents have taken up arms as an ultimate route to power. Many of the dissidents have formed an alliance with anti-Shiite militant groups such as ISIL on the basis that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. The situation has led to a tactical alliance composed of ISIL jihadists, Sunni tribesmen, and loyalists of Iraq’s former Baathist regime against the current government. That explains why some observers believe Maliki has proven himself incapable of governing in accordance with all-inclusive democratic standards and should step down to quell the unrest in Iraq.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials have blamed Maliki’s “wrong policies” for the turn of events, accusing him of being the only one responsible for what has happened during the recent months. For Iraqi Kurds, the state of disorder in the federal government is the greatest opportunity to actualize their century-old quest for an independent Kurdish state. Speaking to CNN a few weeks ago, KRG president Massoud Barzani said: “The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.”

The fact of the matter is that Iraq’s problems are much bigger than its prime minister. Without hesitation, unsuccessful and inefficient project of the post-Saddam Hussein nation-building stems from a heterogeneous combination of ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. But the role and effects of foreign interferences should not be underestimated.

After the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, Shiites came to power in an Arab country for the first time in the modern Middle East. That gave Iran a historic opportunity to gradually expand its influence in Iraq and the region. Some Sunni governments in the region, notably Saudi Arabia, could not welcome the empowerment of Iraq’s Shiite majority and the rise of a government in Baghdad closely tied to Iran. That’s why they tried to challenge Iraq’s national security through escalating sectarian tensions and terrorism.

An additional factor that has contributed to growing sectarian violence is the revolutionary wave of anti-government and pro-democracy protests that began in the Arab world since December 2010, known as the “Arab Spring” or “Islamic Awakening”. Non-democratic regimes in the region consisting of Arab monarchies (mainly ruled by Sunni royal families) and authoritarian republics perceived the wave as a major threat to their interests. The Sunni monarchies found themselves between the hammer of Iran’s rising power and the anvil of extensive revolutionary protests. In response to these concerns, some national security policymakers concluded that immunity from the wave of democratization requires stimulating and manipulating sectarian conflicts. They attempted to deepen the Shiite-Sunni rift by intensifying religious fanaticism in the hope that it would not only stir up anti-Iranian sentiments, but also frustrate the regional struggle for democracy.

As a final point, all states share responsibility for each other’s security. Their common interest requires international cooperation for eradication of violent extremism. There are two main ways to solve Iraq’s problems. Firstly, the Iraqi government needs a new national dialogue and new national reconciliation project between Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish populations to build a new Iraqi society based on the principles of equality, understanding, toleration, and friendship among all groups. Without that, the country is at risk of spreading sectarian war or even disintegration of the Iraqi state and hence ISIL will be better armed, better trained, and better resourced than anything we have faced in the past. It means a no-win situation in which all three sides will lose the game. The second way is constructive and persistent cooperation among regional and international actors to restore Iraq’s national security and promote its territorial integrity. More specifically, we need regional coordination between major powers, including Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Having established a dominant position in Iraq, ISIL will be stronger and more motivated than ever to spread its destructive influence throughout the region. No responsible state can sponsor terrorist organizations forever. When one state decides to organize or strengthen terrorist groups against its rivals, it should remember that terrorists are always likely to turn their arms against their sponsors.


Abdollah Ghanbarloo is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Political Thought and International Relations at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies (IHCS) in Iran

tags: iraq sunni ISIL shiite