ISIS-led sectarian terror is causing havoc in the region. The Maliki government in Baghdad, however, cannot be absolved of responsibility either for contributing to the alienation of tribal elders in places like Mosul that facilitated the takeover by ISIS of the country's second largest city. Sectarianism cuts both ways; it must be condemned no matter who indulges in it.
Sunday June 15, 2014, 11:47 DST
The capture of Mosul and Takrit by the takfiri terrorist group that uses the inappropriate title, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) even surprised the group. They had expected some resistance from the 30,000-strong “US-trained” Iraqi army but when ISIS thugs entered the city on June 10, the Iraqi army fled.
Various explanations have been offered ranging from the cowardice of Iraqi officers that fled the scene, providing an opening for the ISIS thugs, to lack of motivation of the Iraqi army against a determined enemy that has gained notoriety extreme cruelty and mass murder.
All these have elements of truth. How can a 30,000-strong heavily equipped army melt away before barely 1,000 ISIS fighters no matter how well equipped?
The real reason for the Iraqi army’s rout can be traced to massive corruption in the country, lack of representative government that functions on the basis of sectarianism rather than addressing the needs of all the people and failing to take account of tribal loyalties.
It was essentially the deep disenchantment of tribal leaders in Mosul that facilitated the ISIS’s take over. In 2007, it was the same Sunni tribal elders that had helped rout the terrorists from Anbar province.
Instead of appreciating such help and giving them a stake in governing of the country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indulged in sectarian politics.
It must be admitted that sectarianism cuts both ways. There are Sunni sectarians and there are Shia sectarians. Unless both rise above such sectarianism, it will not help to condemn the sectarianism of one side and gloss over that of the other.
Maliki and his allies have as much to answer for as the terrorists and their sponsors—Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the US—regarding the alarming rise of sectarianism in Iraq.
Regimes that operate on the basis of sectarianism lose legitimacy even if the disadvantaged groups are minorities. Should we not expect Maliki to behave differently than the medieval tribal rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain or other Shaikhdoms in the region?
There is of course American involvement as well. The ISIS thugs are nurtured by the US. It is interesting to note that there are Americans advising both the ISIS and the Iraqi army. American mercenaries are embedded on both sides.
Instigating sectarian warfare is a long established US policy. This is what we have witnessed in Syria where it is on the verge of defeat but it was expected that these mercenaries would flood into Iraq from where many of them had emerged led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He has appeared as replacement for Osama bin Laden even superseding Ayman al Zawahiri.
Al Baghdadi was captured by the Americans in 2005 and spent four years in Bucca prison after Abu Ghraib gained notoriety for American torture, rape and murder.
It cannot be ruled out that the Americans struck a deal with al-Baghdadi before releasing him in 2009. His absolute ruthlessness is precisely the kind of character the Americans were looking for. He can advance their sectarian agenda. Further, he had served in the Iraqi army of Saddam Hussain.
By indulging in horrific acts of terror—public beheadings, killing children and women as well as shooting people without any reason—such acts were bound to evoke a strong reaction from the other side. The ISIS thugs even murdered fellow terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra as well as the Free Syrian Army; the latter simply disintegrated because it could not match ISIS brutality.
ISIS ranks are filled with former Ba‘thist soldiers as well as disgruntled Iraqi Sunnis that successive Iraqi regimes have alienated because of sectarianism. If governments cannot represent the interests of all its people, they will face such problems.
True, the rise of ISIS is a grave threat to the entire region but their military defeat alone will not solve the problems plaguing Iraq.
Whosoever is in power in Baghdad will have to address the legitimate grievances of all the people—Sunnis, Shias, Kurds etc—that make up the state of Iraq. It will not do to simply say that the Shias were deprived of their rights by successive Iraqi regimes that were Sunni dominated.
Saddam Hussain could hardly be described a Sunni even if he was born into a Sunni family. He was a CIA-imposed thug whose ruthlessness appealed to the Americans and other Western powers. He was assigned the task of destroying the Islamic Republic of Iran. When he failed in that mission, he ended up dangling from a rope, a fate he richly deserved.
Today’s Iraq does not need the Shia equivalent of a “Sunni” Saddam; it needs a leader who will represent all the myriad people of the country. That is the only way to defeat the sectarian mass murderers.