Unbound revolt – An analysis of the ISIS uprising
In what has been a dark decade for Iraq, the last month has stood out as especially disparaging.
The extremist Sunni group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, most well known for its involvement in Syria, has made significant territorial gains in Iraq.
In recent days it has announced the formation of a new caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.
Simultaneously, the group is getting more powerful as moderate rebels in Syria are pledging allegiance to the group while Sunnis from across the region are speaking out against its supposed caliphate and brutal form of Islamic law.
This contradiction speaks to the nature of the conflict as those within it are supporting the group, which has demonstrated its ability to succeed, while those outside the immediate conflict are wary of the consequences of such support.
ISIS is making substantial gains, a battle for Bagdad is imminent and the central government, despite opening the door for extremism through its exclusion of Sunnis, refuses to create a new government.
However, this quagmire has presented an opportunity for the United States in Iraq, and in what has proven to be a unique set of circumstances, the American government actually has options.
Sectarian conflict has provided the opportunity for unity through a common enemy. Extremist groups routinely take advantage of this strategy and it is time that the strategy was used by the other side, which is typically far less willing to cooperate. The U.S. needs to improve relations with Tehran and there has never been a better time than now.
The U.S. and Iran share the same disdain for Sunni extremism and Iran is a viable option for supporting the Iraqi government, in whatever form it takes in the coming weeks.
Depending on your perspective, it could be fortunate or unfortunate that Iran is the best option right now for a stable Iraq. The Iranians are opportunistic and would favour a situation that has them involved in Iraq’s future while also warming to the U.S.
Of course, a stronger Tehran-Washington relationship would aggravate the Saudis and the Israelis; however, the good news is there is plenty of work to go around. The Saudis need to crack down on funding to ISIS and Sunni extremism generally, and Israel, despite its perceived rhetoric, wants a stable Iraq and especially a stable Syria.
If the U.S. can use its diplomatic prowess to improve relations with Iran while keeping Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia involved and empowered, there is hope for some collective action against ISIS. If the U.S. stops playing nation-builder and warmonger, it can embrace their historically more effective roles in power politics and negotiations.
As for the controversy over a Kurdish state, the Kurds already have an unofficial state. It would be best for the U.S. and for Iraq if they were granted official autonomy with some preconditions.
Not only would this change little on the ground as the Kurds already have a state, which has been bolstered during the current instability, but it would also make forming a representative government much simpler.
If the government is to become inclusive and Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki be replaced, it will be easier to appease two groups (Shiite and Sunni) than three.
Yes, the other groups might be inspired by Kurdish autonomy and push for a three-state solution along sectarian boundaries, but the desire for a unified Iraq has to prevail.
As long as the Kurds, with American pressure, can assure their autonomous region will not serve as a launching pad for extremism, there are more important priorities than forcing the Kurds to buy into a central government.
This is the time for progressives, moderates and intellectuals to be vocal. In the aftermath of America’s intervention, some foreign policy advisors suggested that
Iraq be split up into autonomous states along sectarian lines; although this may be a quick fix, it is unsustainable. Three states with unresolved disputes and independent armies would eventually erupt into a civil war.
Moreover, splitting up Iraq’s resource profits will remain a contentious issue. The West has done enough ‘border drawing’ in its colonial past and that imperial mindset will fail now just as it always has. However, separating Iraq along sectarian lines due to extremism is also not the way to build a state organically.
ISIS has recently obtained chemical weapons to add to their arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons left behind by the Iraqi military in their defeats. There is a narrowing window to prevent this situation from getting worse.
As Israel and Hamas renew their intermittent conflict, the death toll continues to rise in Gaza. Syria is in the midst of a civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe that has spilled over to neighbouring countries, and the international community has hardly responded.
It’s time for the U.S. to exercise its political power and encourage ego-less communication between the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia to help prevent ISIS from expanding further. A stable and diverse Iraq is worth more than the U.S. winning a battle of political posturing over a non-existent Iranian plan to create weapons of mass destruction.