The demise of Iraq
ISIS has been transformed from an underground organisation to one controlling swathes of territory. It also shows a sense of ‘accountability’, publishing an annual report which details precisely its operations and all its other brutal activities. ‘Nation building’ is happening.
ISIS will grow stronger. A dedicated, successful and motivated group attracts supporters and those wanting to join its ranks. There is some support from former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime as Baathists are not excluded. The rump of Saddam Hussein’s defeated army, which was quickly dismantled during the US occupation, could become a good additional reservoir for ISIS combat troops.
How can ISIS be successful? Although Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003 was probably necessary because he intended to destabilise the Middle East, the West’s dream of a unified democratic Iraq was an illusion.
Iraq is an artificial state carved out of the Ottoman Empire by British and French interests at the end of the First World War. It functioned as a monarchy with the king balancing different groups.
Its ‘democratic’ government is dominated by the strongest group, the Shia. And Iraq is not sufficiently federal to balance the interests of minorities. It is now too late to replace the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The results of ISIS’ savage ‘nation building’ are twofold.
Iraq is disintegrating, as GIS expert Dr Amatzia Baram wrote on June 18 and I wrote on June 13. The only option left for the Kurds is to secede with their autonomous zone, having extended it to include Kirkuk on June 12. Kurdistan is now independent, although its future legal structure may remain part of a hypothetical Iraq for the time being.
The people of Kirkuk see protection in a Kurdish state as a god send for the moment. Kurdistan demonstrated its independence last week by ignoring Baghdad and directly exporting oil through Turkey. The Turkish government seems to accept the new Kurdish region. Kurdish independence is now a fact.
Iraq’s Shia dominated government is hoping that Iran and the US may help stop the advance by ISIS fighters. It is likely that ISIS will have to halt its attack and consolidate, as ISIS is not a bunch of terrorists but a real army with functioning logistics and supply lines which could become stretched.
It is likely that ISIS could control an area extending from Mosul in the north, close to Baghdad in the south and the Syrian and Jordanian border in the west.
Prime Minister al-Maliki’s corrupt government, supported by the Obama administration, has alienated the Sunnis to such an extent that an attempt to regain control of this area would mean all-out war. It seems unlikely that US President Barack Obama and Iran will want to do more than defend the Shia areas.
One scenario is for a Shia dominated Iraq in the south and around Baghdad. The south of Iraq is rich in oil and gas and stable at present. Such a scenario would also see the Shia holy places of Karbala and Najaf protected. Destruction of one of the Shia shrines would inflame a Sunni-Shia war.
The logical consequence of these scenarios would see an ISIS state in ‘former Iraq’. This would be radical, offensive and fundamentalist, and would encompass the Sunni area of Iraq.
This would have a devastating impact on Syria directly and would spread unrest across the entire area. ISIS already controls areas in Syria. It can expand its Syrian territories and create a home base for further activities throughout the Middle East and Africa by coordinating with other terror organisations.
ISIS has the objective – besides fighting Shia and ‘infidels’ – of establishing an Islamic state which includes Iraq, Syria, Jordan and parts of the Arabian peninsula.
The Arab winter, naively once called the Arab spring, is sending a chill throughout the whole region.