12:00 AM, July 01, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Is Iraq on the brink of breaking up?

Is Iraq on the brink of breaking up?

Gyasuddin A. Chowdhury BB

IN 2003, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was launched by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush, based on a thesis written by a British student about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) piled up by President Saddam Hossain of Iraq. The two leaders justified their invasion saying that it was to destroy those weapons as well as to remove Saddam Hossain.
After successful completion of “Operation Desert Fox” no such weapons were found by the weapon experts after thorough search/investigations carried out immediately after the war. Tony Blair repeatedly put the blame on a report prepared about WMD by the British Intelligence.
Before the war in Iraq, opinion polls showed that people of nearly all the countries opposed a war without UN mandate and viewed the US under George W. Bush as a danger for world peace. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described the war as illegal.
In Europe, the peace movement was very strong, especially in Germany where three quarter of the population was opposed to the war. Ten Nato member countries did not join the coalition with the US. Their leaders made public statements in opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
Iraq has two major sects -- Shia and Sunni. In the north Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, particularly the people of Saddam's birth place, the majority of the people are Sunnis. The majority of the population of Iraq is Shia. Saddam Hossain managed to rule both sects in Iraq with an iron fist. Moreover, clan/tribal societies in Iraq have different social, cultural and political values and loyalties, about which western societies have very limited understanding.
The ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) jihadis, comprised of mostly of Sunni Muslims, have captured many cities in Nineveh province like Kirkuk, Mosul etc. ISIL overran Mosul Airport, which was properly equipped for operation by the US military. No facilities were utilised by the Iraqi military soldiers, who ran away. About 50,000 residents, including military personnel, fled leaving their homes.
ISIL damaged/destroyed many tanks and shot down a few helicopters of the government forces. The losses have left Iraqis with no offensive capabilities and no air power. ISIL captured two towns near the Syrian and Turkish borders. They also captured a few more towns in Anbar province.
The US provided a good number of Hell Fire missiles and surveillance drones. President Obama is under pressure to redeploy some military forces again in Iraq. The president has committed to send 300 military advisors from 101 Airborne Division, but they do not count as troops. He insists that the armed forces will not be returned to combat.
Although President Obama pulled back his major military forces from Iraq in 2011, military leaders have not ruled out new intervention in Iraq. Army Chief of Staff Roy Ordienro, formerly Commanding General of US forces in Iraq, would not rule out eventually putting boots back on the ground in Iraq because the 2002 “Congressional Authorizations of the Use of Military Forces” (AUMF) in Iraq has not been rescinded. The Obama administration could commit troops to Iraq without any new authorisation.
President Maliki's role has given birth to ISIL, a highly motivated militant group. Immediately after withdrawal of US troops in 2011 a warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashmi was issued by Maliki. Al Hashmi was eventually sentenced to death in absentia. There were accusations by human rights organisations of a “slew of human rights abuses” including rape, torture and execution under Maliki's government.
Middle East rulers are now divided into two sectarian sides, Shia and Sunni. A third party headed by the superpower with its allies, including Israel, also may play a vital role to diminish oil power and religious bondage between the Arab nations. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and few more countries having Sunni population have shown their concern about the Shia upheaval. The presence of Shia president Asad, an ally of Iran, has not only created concern in Israel but also created worries in all the Sunni kings and amirs of the Middle East. It is said that these rulers are giving support to ISIL to contain Shia influence in the region, particularly in Iran and Syria and, last but not the least, from Maliki, a Shia. The US government is also not happy with Maliki and wants his replacement with a ruler acceptable to all parties in Iraq.
The war is flaring up fast around Iraq and its neighbouring countries and may soon lead to an upheaval of unprecedented magnitude. Calling it an al-Qaeda movement, as the western media is doing, is not correct. Poor developing countries will suffer most in economic terms, mainly because oil price will spiral due to the disruptions created.
A country like ours is economically vulnerable because of dependency on oil from the Middle East. Worst of all, more than ten million of our labourers working in those countries will lose their livelihood. We are anxiously waiting to see how the US and its allies handle the present crisis in Iraq -- a creation of theirs -- before a full blown conflict flares up in the region.

The writer is a former Director, Military Operation in AHQ and a former Ambassador.


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