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Iraq: The ISIS Crisis and Solutions

Thursday, 18 December 2014 21:38

Iraq: The ISIS Crisis and Solutions


Executive Summary


December 2014




1.   The Iraqi crisis, largely the product of a misguided post-invasion U.S. policy, has transformed into a formidable global threat. Iraq is now the frontier of unhinged Islamic fundamentalism, entailing that its defeat in Iraq will deliver lasting repercussions for fundamentalists across the region.


2.   Perhaps the greatest blunder committed by the U.S. in Iraq was to relinquish the country's nascent post-war order to Iran's malice and mercenaries. Tehran used this unprecedented opening to expand its influence both in Iraq and in the region. This facilitated the unbridled furtherance of its three-decade-old policy of aggression and exporting of the "Islamic revolution." It enabled Tehran to solidify control at home and expand the range of its threats to western interests.


3.   Constitutionally, exporting of Islamic fundamentalism underwrites the overall foreign policy of Tehran's ideological rulers. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial arm, the Qods Force, have a mandate to execute that core objective. Their power transcends factional bickering, which incidentally illustrates that the regime's quarrelling factions have forged a consensus when it comes to the regime's strategic trajectory.


4.   Over the past decade, the Iranian regime has expanded its control in Iraq through:


a)  The establishment and strengthening of Shiite militias and capture of local control;

b)  Infiltration of pro-Iranian Iraqi militias and groups into key positions within the political, military, security and economic structures in Iraq;

c)  Deception of the U.S. and empowerment of Iranian proxies in order to consolidate power in influential positions.


5.   Three major factors that led to Iranian domination of Iraq were:


a)  Nouri al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006;

b)  The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the ensuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq;

c)  The Obama administration's regional policy and its astonishing failure to effectively check the rising Iranian influence in Iraq.


6.   The Iranian regime and its primary proxy, Nouri al-Maliki, provoked widespread anger among the Sunni community through violent suppression, exclusion from body politic, physical annihilation, and forcing Sunni leaders into exile. Despite the success of General Petraeus' policy of creating the Awakening Councils which pushed back al-Qaeda in 2007-2008, the situation took a turn for the worse with Maliki's sectarian policies. The crisis deepened following the departure of U.S. forces and the dismantling and elimination of the Awakening Councils by Maliki.


7.   This disturbing trend facilitated the rise and expansion of extremism, particularly through the Islamic State (ISIS). The unbridled sectarianism and corruption permeating Iraq’s security and military structure triggered their swift meltdown in the face of advancing threats. As a result, three months of Coalition airstrikes have produced only modest gains in the absence of a reliable fighting force on the ground. Washington and Baghdad have failed to organize tribal and Sunni Iraqis who have a history of fighting al-Qaeda. The majority of Sunnis and Iraqi tribes who fought against Maliki until a few months ago have now left the scene, with some being recruited by ISIS.


8.   On the other hand, Maliki's removal from power has dealt a significant blow to the Iranian regime. Desperately seeking to regain lost territory, Tehran pursues a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, it uses Shiite militias to regain control on the ground through the occupation of large swathes of Iraqi territory. On the other hand, it continues to empower Maliki and undermine al-Ibadi (al-Abadi) in a bid to maintain its grip on power in Baghdad's central government. In the meantime, Tehran's apparent animosity toward ISIS is tactical at best. U.S. entanglement in the theatre against ISIS gives Iran a chance to restore its dominance in Iraq.


9.   As a result, militias affiliated with the Iranian regime have gained increasing power in Iraq and have recaptured some areas from ISIS. Compounding the numerous atrocities they have committed over the past decade, they are now engaged in what can only be described as acts of genocide in Sunni communities recaptured from ISIS.


10. A solution to the crisis is hopelessly out of reach without the active and pervasive participation of Sunnis and tribal forces in the reconstitution of the broken political process. These forces are prepared to engage on the ground, and their potency was at its most obvious when they successfully repelled al-Qaeda during the past decade. However, in order to engage these forces effectively, the current policy has to be reconfigured and corrected. The new and pro-active policy should include the rigorous restraining of Iranian influence in Iraq and the expulsion of its destructive proxies, whose main objective has been to aggravate sectarian sensitivities and hostilities. Shiite militias such as the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah must also be evicted from Iraq in order to rekindle a lasting environment of political reconciliation.


11. Hinting at possible collaboration with Tehran to solve the Iraqi crisis would unquestionably constitute an irreversible mistake. This irrational and mistaken approach has already been tested by two U.S. administrations - Bush and Obama - over the past fourteen years. At a time when Iraq is turning a historic corner, Washington's collaboration with Tehran and turning a blind eye to the regime's vicious meddling, will undermine Prime Minister al- Ibadi. This counterproductive and dangerous policy will in all likelihood lead to al-Ibadi's defeat, if he is indeed serious about making real changes and detaching Iraq from past sectarian policies. He will end up being a victim of America's misguided policy with potentially catastrophic consequences that will reverberate throughout the region.


12. The new approach, which would include a serious restraining of Iran's influence in Iraq, promises the only political and lasting solution to the spiralling sectarian strife in Iraq and the region. In the absence of this alternative, the war against ISIS will morph into a sectarian war pitting Shiites against Sunnis, which even if temporarily restrained, will resurface in due course, haunting the region for decades to come.


13. The strategy to defeat ISIS should be fundamentally predicated on a cultural and religious alternative and antithesis that can mount a strategic challenge to the violent, fanatic and extremist view of Islam. America's resolute support for a tolerant and democratic Islam that is indigenous to the Middle East will be instrumental in drying up the breeding ground of fundamentalism, whether in its Sunni form of ISIS or its Shiite version of the Iranian regime and its merciless mercenaries.


Struan Stevenson

President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association

President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014)

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