Iraq is hoping for peacemakers
Iraq is hoping for peacemakers
The Iraqi parliament is electing a new prime minister on Tuesday (05.08.2014). His main task will be to lead the fight against the terrorist group Islamic State. For this, though, military means alone are not enough.
Iraq’s future head of state will have to achieve the almost impossible if he hopes to maintain Iraq in its current form. First and foremost, he must prevent the jihadist terror group Islamic State (IS – formerly known as ISIS) from bringing more areas of Iraqi territory under its control. He must also defend the integrity of his country against the Kurds, who want their autonomous region in the north of the country to become an independent state.
Both these things will only be possible if, at the same time, he succeeds in the most important task of all: He must get Iraq’s three main demographic groups – Sunnis, Shia and Kurds – to sit down together at the negotiating table and initiate a national dialog, at the end of which there must be a compromise all three groups can live with.
The most important bones of contention are the questions of political representation, the distribution of national income, and the right to cultural and religious identity. If the future prime minister succeeds in resolving these questions by common agreement, he can hope to maintain Iraq in its current form over the long term. If he fails, Iraq is in danger of splitting into three parts, each inhabited and governed by one of these three groups. Less than a hundred years after its inception, modern-day Iraq would cease to exist.
The state as the enemy The Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has failed to resolve these problems during his two terms in office to date. Many observers believe al-Maliki is in fact partly responsible for the current chaos in Iraq. Many of the people of the Sunni-dominated provinces in the northwest of the country have turned to the jihadists in search of a political partner. This shows just how desperate they had become as a result of al-Maliki’s refusal to enter into a political compromise with them. Instead of seeking a political solution, he sent troops into the Sunni provinces. Until early this year, these troops not only confronted the IS jihadists but also harassed all Sunnis whom they suspected of cooperating or even sympathizing with IS. The arrests of leading Sunni politicians and al-Maliki’s hard military course in the troubled Sunni province of Anbar have been decisive factors in Sunnis increasingly coming to see the state as their enemy.
Even if the jihadists were to lose the sympathy they have gained from large sections of the Sunni population, it will require a tremendous effort to reunite the country. And the prospects for that aren’t good. “IS is currently threatening to capture large parts of the country,” writes the Middle East expert Gareth Stansfield, director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. “The fact that Iraq is still paralyzed in the face of such a threat is an indication of how difficult it is to achieve a political agreement.”
Politics as a priority
Refugees in their own country: Christians who fled Mosul when IS took over the city
But according to Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Saleh el-Mutlaq, only a political solution can reunite the two religious groups (Sunni and Shia). Speaking to the online magazine Al-Monitor, which specializes in the politics of the Middle East, he said that such a solution could also help to isolate armed groups, and then expel them. He pointed out that this was how al-Qaeda fighters were combated in previous years. “Moreover,” he added, “a political solution can contribute to lifting the injustice from large segments of Iraqi society and restoring their rights, which they lost as a result of unjust decisions and laws put in place during the days of the occupation.”
Whoever is elected to the post of Iraqi prime minister on Tuesday will presumably feel compelled to adopt a new political course. The Americans, who supported al-Maliki for many years, are now reluctant to keep equipping the Iraqi military with new weapons. In Washington, the faction demanding a national political dialog in Iraq is growing increasingly strong. Iraqi troops will therefore not be in a position to expel IS in the foreseeable future.
On the contrary: The jihadists continue to advance. Earlier this week, they invaded Kurdish-controlled territory for the first time. The Kurds state that they are well armed and technically on a level with the Iraqi army – plus they’re supported by the Iraqi air force. But the IS fighters also have a huge arsenal at their disposal.
The jihadists and the oil
One of the Peshmerga fighters opposing IS
According to estimates by the Iraqi Oil Report, after bringing two Iraqi oil fields – Ajeel and Hamrin-2 – under their control, the IS fighters are now exporting crude oil valued at between one million and 1.4 million Dollars a day. The journal Mena Energy News & Analysis reports that the oil is sold by middlemen to Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey and Iran. With this money the jihadists are not only in a position to buy weapons: They can pay their fighters, too. This is also helping them to entice many members of the Iraqi military to join their ranks.
So far, the Iraqi government has fought the jihadists primarily with force of arms. The long-term success of this strategy is questionable. The next premier must also combat the religious extremists of IS politically. The price for this would be a political and economic balancing of interests between Sunnis and Shia. And it would have to be accepted not only in parliament but by the whole population.
However, a new premier may not be elected that quickly. In addition to the incumbent, al-Maliki, five other candidates are also standing. It is by no means a given that parliament will immediately be able to agree on one of them on Tuesday. Iraq is a divided country – all the way to the top.