30 novembro, 2015

RIP Iraq


Desenho original de Afonso Duarte

Like her Syrian neighbour, Iraq has been unravelling. The main differences are that this has been happening in Iraq for more time and the fighting has been less widespread and not as deadly as in Syria.

In Iraq, the main sectarian/ethnic distinctions are three-fold: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The former constitute the majority group (around 60% of the population) and govern Iraq. However, they are split between the central government headed by Prime-Minister Haider Al-Abadi and a score of powerful Shiite militias with considerable manpower and military capabilities and whose allegiances sway between Baghdad and Tehran, but they are mostly armed, financed and even directed by Iran, specifically by the IRGC’s Quds Force.

The Sunnis, by and large, feel (and actually are) disenfranchised by the Shiite powers that be. This reality is a consequence of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, but was severely deepened after the 2011 departure of the US troops from Iraq and the increasingly sectarian policies of former Prime-Minister Nouri Al-Maliki until the Summer of 2014.

The Islamic State (IS) has been the main vehicle of Sunni revolt against the statu quo. The string of stunning military victories by the IS, culminating in the June 2014 conquest of Mosul and the subsequent proclamation of the Islamic Caliphate, were the strongest drivers of the popularity and support the IS garnered in Iraq, Syria, the Middle East and beyond.

In this period, the Islamic State has managed to carve a proto-state out of most of Western Iraq and Eastern Syria (check the 13th June 2014 post “Estado Islâmico do Iraque Ocidental e Síria Oriental” - Islamic State of Western Iraq and Eastern Syria at http://tempos-interessantes.blogspot.pt/2014/06/estado-islamico-do-iraque-ocidental-e.html  ) and she has proved difficult to dislodge in spite of the erosion the war has caused on her.

However, the anti-IS offensive has mostly been spearheaded by the US Air Force, the Shiite militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga, in short, a coalition of anti-Iraqi Sunni forces: USA, Iran and Kurds. It is quite reasonable to assume that, when and if the Islamic State is militarily beaten, Iraq’s Sunnis will not come out in droves to celebrate and much less to greet the liberators. Most likely, unless there are great political changes in Baghdad (which is unlikely), Sunni unrest will endure and the IS will morph into some other entity which will pick up the fight in a few years-time.

The Islamic State and the Kurdistan Regional Government: mutual foes and both opponents of Baghdad.
in STRATFOR at www.stratfor.com

Finally, the Kurds run their own proto-state, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In spite of being an authoritarian, corrupt, bankrupt and nepotistic entity, it has enjoyed the favours of the Western powers, namely the UK and the US and that of Turkey as well. The most outstanding example of the West’s leniency is London’s and Washington’s support for Masoud Barzani’s indefinite permanence as president of the KRG fully two years after the end of his term.

Besides, the KRG has been actively asserting its claim to independence and sovereignty, exporting oil through Turkey circumventing the Iraqi state and occupying the city of Kirkuk and the surrounding oil fields. One can say that, in a twisted way, the KRG has benefited from the Islamic State surge and expansion.

Even when the IS emergency eventually fades away, it is clear that the KRG will continue to pursue full independence and it will not easily and willingly relinquish the prerogatives an territories it has already appropriated for itself.

To top it all, the Iraqi government is weak, divided and ineffective, unable to face and defeat the Islamic State, or to bring the KRG back under control, or even to rein in on the Iranian-backed militias, on whose fighting power it ultimately depends on.

So, the ingredients for state failure are all there:

            * Religious and ethnic hatred.

* Government’s impotence to control and protect much of Iraq’s territory and population.

* Government’s impotence to effectively fight and subdue or destroy the rebellious entities of IS and KRG.

* Government’s dependence on militias largely dependent on and answering to Iran.

* Government’s dependency on foreign powers (Iran and the US) to survive the
Islamic State’s assault.

This is a recipe for disaster, for the implosion and partition of a country that effectively does not function as such anymore.

Like in Syria, Rest in Peace Iraq (RIP IRAQ) could be a relatively benign endgame for the war-torn country. Unfortunately, whether it comes to that or not, Rest and Peace are clearly not in the cards for Iraq.

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