The Current Situation in Iraq

By Mustafa Abid

As one of America’s larger military and economic investments, Iraq should (hopefully) be in our headlights as one of the more important regional situations to monitor. If you don’t already, you should start reading, watching and listening to the result of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. As Iraq enters its third post-American year, two events, arguably well connected, should be registering on the American public’s radar this spring. While separate categorically, the rise of ISIS terrorist activities in Fallujah and the coming Iraqi elections will likely play deeply into one another, and their cumulative results may well impact regional security.

On March 20th, The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) took to the streets in Fallujah, a violence stricken city north of Baghdad. Even more concerning than the parade in Fallujah, ISIS conducted a similar parade[1] only two miles north of Baghdad’s city limits, in Abu Ghraib[2]. On its surface, this parade celebrates the failure of the Iraqi Army to storm Fallujah, which fell to ISIS and other Islamists groups in December 2013[3]. Analysts cite the change from a quite presence to daylight parades as proof of ISIS’s decision to call off its truce so far maintained with “the military council for the tribes of Fallujah”, which represents an assortment of non-ISIS Islamists, including an al-Qaeda affiliate[4]. These public displays of ISIS fighters, according to Al-Monitor, could indicate a decision to supersede the other rebel groups in Fallujah, putting the city under ISIS law. The Syrian city of Raqqa, in which ISIS demanded a tax from the city’s Christians, on pain of death, serves as a more than adequate example of what is to be feared from ISIS controlling a population center [5]. As the situation continues to unfold, with reports of military shelling of Fallujah, Iraqis should not be the only ones terrified of these events. The fact that such a radical group of Islamists has the power to parade openly in a country the U.S. just spent a decade stabilizing demonstrates the current failure of post-American Iraq.

The crisis in Fallujah and Abu Ghraib are now on the forefront of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s agenda, are potentially resultant of his policies, and yet will likely bolster his party’s election run at the end of April. Al-Maliki and his ‘State of Law’ party now face elections on April 30th in which he seeks a 3rd term, but the dangerous surge of ISIS activity casts significant doubt on the efficacy of Maliki’s administration. Since the departure of American forces in 2011, attempts at building a conciliatory government and armed forces between Sunni and Shia in the country, in the hopes of avoiding the nearly intractable sectarian bloodshed 2007 and 2008, have been sullied by Maliki’s apparent political maneuvers, which included charging Vice President Tariq al Hashimi with terrorism and sentencing him to death in absentia, and arresting the bodyguards of the Finance Minister and Iraqi National List opposition party leader Rafi al-Issawi in 2012, prompting his resignation and further frustration amongst Iraq’s Sunni politicians[6],[7]. These actions, combined with countless smaller aggressions Sunnis have experienced or have perceived to have experienced since the end of the first bout of sectarian violence, have inarguably contributed to sympathies towards groups fighting the Iraqi government, especially the local tribes in regions in Anbar. It would seem then, that many Iraqis, or even his own party, would reject Malaki in the hopes of empowering a more conciliatory leader, yet that does not seem so certain.

In some respects, Mailiki’s third term prospects have certainly soured in recent days as discontent within National Iraqi Alliance threatens to keep Maliki from gaining nomination to this PM post, but other observers from within his State of Law party claim with certainty that he will be re-nominated[8]. Elections then offer an opportunity for disenfranchised Iraqis to vote their opinions on Maliki, and possibly bring into power a more balanced government and force more cooperation amongst the various parties. If they consider Maliki’s nomination a certainty, they could choose to voice their discontentment with him through a rejection of the State of Law party. Voters will no doubt be thinking about the violence in Fallujah and Abu Ghraib; for Shia voters in the south, the perception of Maliki as an iron-fisted defender against the violently anti-Shia ISIS would be appealing, while to Sunni voters in the north, his image as a heavy handed, exclusionary ruler seeking semi-autocratic power may drive their votes towards smaller parties, potentially diluting their impact if they vote along tribal lines.

The results of the coming election (disregarding the highly probable situation in which electoral results are called into question on the basis of electoral fraud) could provide a telling barometer on not only Sunni political leanings during a time of violence in the Sunni North, but also of the majority Shia political leanings as they weigh sectarian preferences against political track record. While one would hope that voters would place politically pragmatic choices first, it seems much more likely that we are about to observe a very sectarian driven election.

[1] Videos of the two parades, in which American supplied vehicles (including the emblematic Humvee, Ford F-250 and a couple Chryslers) are being driven by ISIS militants. Supplied to the Iraqi armed forces, these vehicles have been re appropriated by ISIS. American tax dollars have, unfortunately, ended up helping ISIS.

[2] Only two days ago, Abu Ghraib was closed by the Iraqi government citing ‘security reasons’, with the memory of the prison break last year at the hands of Islamist forces (cite bbc article)








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