The Iraqi ISIS Crisis in A Nutshell
The Syrian based jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS”) has joined forces with disenfranchised Iraqi Sunnis—including former Saddam Hussein Baathist regime military leaders—and overrun a huge swath of Northwestern Iraq. The conquered territory includes Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The Iraqi Army stationed across the northwestern cities abandoned their posts and equipment, improving ISIS capability and jeopardizing Baghdad.
- U.S. support of the Iraqi Shia Government of Nouri al-Maliki aligns the U.S. with our declared enemies of Iran and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, both Maliki allies—an absurd incongruity.
- Nouri al-Maliki has rejected a U.S. demand to assemble an inclusive new Government that would ease Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish disenfranchisement. Absent an inclusive policy commitment from Iraq, should the U.S. support opposition to what appears to be a fait accompli?
- The Kurds in northern Iraq have taken advantage of the ISIS (Sunni) Shia conflict and secured the long coveted city of Kirkuk (after the Iraqi Army left.) This likely is positive however as Turkey is now supporting the Kurds, a recent change, but clearly the lesser of two evils.
- There are millions of refugees streaming into the Kurdish region to avoid the conflict.
- Jordan has already absorbed the brunt of the Syrian refugees, and new refugees from western Iraq could overwhelm Jordan’s capacity to cope.
- The Kurdish Regional Government (“KRG”) has operated as a sovereign nation for the last 20 years. The Kurds have security, a thriving economy, and most importantly; a 200k+ standing army, the Peshmerga, an experienced, well equipped, battle-tested, and formidable force. ISIS will surely avoid direct confrontation with the Peshmerga. The Kurds want a formal Kurdistan, and it’s time to support their independence.
- Russia now benefits from an inconsistent U.S. Middle East policy (or a lack of any thereof) that has completely unravelled, hobbling credibility in Ukraine.
- The U.S. continues to support a unified Iraq against all reason—as Sunnis and Kurds both want out—raising the greatest question, a unified Iraq serves whom?
Facts: Sunni-Shia Schism; Incongruent U.S. Foreign Policy
The original Sunni-Shia Schism originated in 632, the year of Muhammad’s death, and is primarily a disagreement over proper succession of the Islamic state leader, the Caliph. Sunnis believe a Democratic process should apply to succession, where Shia believe succession is more lineal (based on bloodlines and/or family ties.) Over time their differences expanded. After 1,382 years and untold tens of thousands of deaths, Sunni and Shia are clearly not going to resolve their differences—so lets accept that they will not and stop hoping that they will. Moreover, lets support a non-violent reorganization that eliminates internecine friction.
The U.S. has consistently been inconsistent in their positions towards Sunni-Shia relations, instead choosing to cherry pick sides based on short-term geopolitical circumstances. This reactionary and tactical approach prohibits strategic support of a long-term solution. Despite the violence, what we are now witnessing in Iraq is actually a more natural organization of peoples, determined by those same peoples—evidenced most strongly by the Iraqi Army’s unwillingness to defend northwestern Iraq (historically Sunni) lands.
A Few Examples of U.S. Inconsistency Towards Sunni-Shia Disputes:
- Throughout the late 1980’s, the U.S. supported Osama Bin Laden and his Sunni Mujahideen fighters during the Soviet War in Afghanistan, anything to oppose the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism.
- The U.S. also supported Saddam Hussein and his Sunni majority Baath Party in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, apparently not concerned with Saddam’s use of gas (at the time) against Iran and the Kurds (who had sided with Iran.)
- Ironically, the U.S. (via their proxy in the region, Israel) supplied Arms to Shia Iran courtesy of Ronald Reagan and his Iran-Contra affair. Reagan wanted the proceeds to support the Nicaraguan Contras, in direct contradiction of U.S. Congress and the Boland Amendment.
- Despite their support of Sunni Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War, the U.S. then reversed their support during the First Gulf War after Saddam’s incursion into Kuwait, eventually propping up the current Shia dominated Iraqi administration of Nouri al-Maliki.
- And lets not forget, the U.S. protected the Sunni Saudi Government after Saddam rolled his tanks into Kuwait (within easy striking distance of the Saudis) triggering Osama Bin Laden’s outrage at 100k infidel U.S. soldiers on sacred Saudi soil.
IRAQ Solution: Ceasefire Followed by a U.N. Negotiated Reconfiguration
The best solution for Iraq is to further refine the territorial reconfiguration, and form agreements, on the hard violent partition that has already taken place. There is no point opposing the inevitable, as the Kurds have already stated they are not leaving Kirkuk, and the Sunnis are not all leaving northwestern Iraq. So why not help the three major factions to work out a fair and natural partition into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish sectors?
Supporting a unified Iraq perpetuates the fighting, as neither Sunnis nor Kurds want a unified Iraq. We must aid the current Iraqi government not to wage war against the Sunni’s, but to reconfigure Iraq to a consensus structure with natural ethnic, religious, tribal, and political boundaries. A global call and offer of reconfiguration could be floated to ISIS (with Shia and Kurdish consent) to initially get a formal ceasefire. A key condition to the ceasefire would be to agree on an Iraqi Reconfiguration team that would immediately set up meetings to hear all interested parties and to document all positions—including demands, grievances, and suggestions.
The Iraq Reconfiguration team should consist of all countries with direct borders with Iraq (Tier-1), including the following, as well as the U.N. and any other parties (Tier-2) that can show enough value and interest to the proceedings. Tier-2 countries would take part only at the request of a Tier-1 majority. The U.N. should administer the reconfiguration process throughout.
|Iraq Reconfiguration Team : Tier-1 (Direct Borders)
Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Kurdish Regional Government, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel (Golan Heights), Lebanon
|Iraq Reconfiguration Team : Tier-2 (No Border, Sufficient Value)
Iran, Russia, United States
Of course, there are many cities and areas within Iraq that are extremely diverse, Baghdad being the best but not only example. Do all these people really hate each other? Probably not, but they are all justifiably frightened and susceptible to mob action and violence. Do all these people want to live together? Some yes, some no.
If a formal ceasefire is achieved, then those that want to move to another area would be free to do so under no threat of violence. Over time people could migrate to an area that is safest and best for their future, further reducing the friction. A partitioned Iraq would at least have hope for so many that have been through so much.
Mark G Capolupo
Sunni and Shia Geographic Distribution
Sources for this article:
- CNN (06/12/3024) World / Middle-East – Who Is This ISIS?
- The NY Times (06/12/2014) The Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps/Photos/Videos
- BBC News (06/16/2014) Profile: Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)
- Israel National News – Regional War Looms? Jordan Deploys Massive Force on Iraqi Border
- World Affairs Journal – Defeat ISIS, Partition Iraq
- New York Times (06/28/2014) – Shiite Cleric in Iraq Urges Quick Decision on New Government
- CNN (06/26/2014) – Why would Syria bomb Iraq? Your questions answered
- New York Times (06/27/2014) Redrawn lines seen as no cure in Iraq conflict
- Washington Post (06/25/2014) Al Maliki Calls For Iraq Unity
- CNN (06/26/2014) – Iraq’s parliament called to meet amid worsening crisis
- The Fiscal Times (06/26/2014) Map Shows How To Save Iraq
- Politico (06/2014) – Iraqi War Poll: More say Iraq war not worth it
- Gulf Analysis WordPress – Iraq Soft Partition
- Brookings Institution – June 2007, Edward Joseph – Soft Partition in Iraq
- New York Times – 07/30/2007 – Biden plan for ‘soft partition’ of Iraq gains momentum
- Foreign Policy Association – The Islamic State in Iraq and Soft Partition
- World Politics Review – 13486/the-realist-prism-as-mideast-unravels-time-to-reconsider-soft-partitions
- Pew Forum (2009) Mapping The Global Muslim Population