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Is Iraq bound for the same destiny as Syria?

By Ali Omidi - posted Monday, 21 July 2014

When the world woke up on the morning of June 10, 2014, a news story had hit the headlines: "ISIS has taken control of Mosul." Before long, the terrorist forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied other provinces of Iraq, including Salah ad Din, Al-Anbar, and Diyala, as well as other parts of western, northwestern and central regions of Iraq. Having done this, the terrorist group of ISIS declared the birth of a self-proclaimed government, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, with Mosul as its capital city. Just a few days after these developments, Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region, announced that a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan region from Iraq will be held within the next few months. It has been almost a month since the ISIS dominated large swaths of the Iraqi soil and all efforts made by the Iraqi forces to repel the ISIS invasion have been limited to containment. Now, the question that has preoccupied observers of Iraq's developments is whether Iraq is on its way to a similar fate as that of Syria.

The present article is based on the hypothesis that unfortunately, if the following factors continue to influence the situation in Iraq, the Arab country will be in for a fate similar to that of Syria and the crisis in Iraq will not abate in the foreseeable future, if it does not get worse. The five groups of factors which can prove this claim to be correct are as follows:

1. Psychological factors


The ISIS is a ruthless and inhumane group. This terrorist group has chosen the toughest methods to deal with those who oppose it and killing human beings is the easiest thing for its members. By massacring the opposition and mass killing of people, the ISIS has created a powerful atmosphere of fear among the Iraqi armed forces and people of the country. Therefore, defeating the ISIS forces requires an effective system of command, communication, control and logistics, which is seemingly not within the current capacity of the Iraqi army. On the other hand, the decision by the Iraqi Kurds to declare their independence from Iraq has had a negative psychological impact on the rest of the country and has reduced the possibility of maintaining territorial integrity of Iraq. As a result, Iraq has been driven close to the brink of collapse and disintegration.

2. Sociological factors

The conquests by the ISIS group did not take place in a void. On the opposite, the group's rapid conquests were carried out in those parts of Iraq whose people sympathize with the ISIS, or at least, are not very loyal to the central government in Baghdad. The Sunni Arab regions of Iraq believe that they have been set aside from the political structure in Iraq and this notion has been continuously strengthened through propaganda and remarks by Arab and Western media and officials. It should be noted that Sunni Arabs dominated the political structure of Iraq for about a century and they felt relatively deprived of their historical power as a result of developments that unraveled in the country following the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the world of politics, such misunderstandings sometimes overcome the realities on the ground.

3. Economic factors

Every political group with a claim to power should be in possession of enduring financial resources in order to both survive and overcome its foes. Unfortunately, following the conquest of such rich Iraqi cities as Mosul and Tikrit, the ISIS has been turned into the wealthiest terrorist group in the world. This group is also in command of huge water and crude oil reserves in Iraq and can even put heavy pressure on the central government in this regard. Inexpensive crude oil has many customers on the international black market. As long as this group maintains its grip on these resources, it will be possible for it to survive.

4. National factors


Since the establishment of its government in 1932 up to the present time, the process of building a nation-state has not been institutionalized in Iraq and the country has been persistently grappling with the crisis resulting from this state of events. As a result of this situation, the country has been witnessing huge political upheavals since the onset of its birth up to the present time. Consequently, various ethnic groups in Iraq lack the sense of having a unified identity; a situation which became worse as a result of the atrocities of the former Baathist regime, which added fuel to the flames of this multiple identity crisis. The fall of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime and subsequent occupation of Iraq by the American forces was, in fact, the end of this government whose various parts were forcefully held together. In fact, the present-day Iraq is a good example of a failed state, which is not able to fulfill even a minimum of special tasks that a government is expected to take care of. The inability to form a new parliament and also incapability of elected lawmakers to choose a new president, a new prime minister, and a new parliament speaker, is a major sign of the existence of a profound crisis with regard to nation-state building process in Iraq.

5. International factors

Considered at regional and international levels, the ISIS apparently enjoys the same situation that the Taliban group had in Afghanistan around the year 2000. So far, no government in the world has recognized the ISIS and apparently even the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been trying to keep their distance from this group. The ISIS is product of the security turmoil in Syria combined with the support that was accorded to various militant groups in Syria by the Arab Western states. However, the group has now an identity of its own, which is quite independent of its original supporters. Just in the same way that Al-Qaeda, which was nurtured by the United States at first, became a burden for Washington later, now the policy and ideology of the ISIS has started to drift away from its original supporters. The government of Iran, on the other hand, has officially dismissed the possibility of direct military intervention in Iraq and has sufficed to providing the Iraqi government with consultation and logistical assistance. Meanwhile, although the United States, the West and Russia have officially indicated their opposition to division of Iraq, in practice, however, they have taken no effective step to prevent the process of Iraq's disintegration. Washington has not gone beyond mere dispatch of a few advisors and drones. In the meantime, pushing back and defeating the ISIS requires a full-scale ground offensive, which is apparently not on the agenda of the Western countries at the present time. All told, there is no resolute determination to confront the ISIS within international system, unless another 9/11 takes place!

All the above reasons attest to the fact that the continuation of crisis is Iraq is a strong possibility and the country is unfortunately in for a fate similar to that of Syria. The only thing that can change this is a major alteration in the above factors and parameters in favor of the central government in Baghdad, which would enable the Iraqi army to regain its lost morale through a clear military triumph over the ISIS. Alternatively, various political groups in Iraq should reach a consensus on the establishment of a new government and protection of the country's territorial integrity. The international system should also lend its serious support to territorial integrity of Iraq. However, no sign of such positive developments can be seen, at least, by the time that this article was written.

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This article was first published in Iran Review.

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About the Author

Dr Ali Omidi is Assistant Professor of International Relationsat the University of Isfahan-Iran.

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