Iraq: What Remains – International Crisis Group

What America left behind, what remains today, can barely be considered a nation. It is a contraption held together solely by the reluctance of its many components to let things again come to blows, and which survives on constant infusions of cash thanks to high international oil prices. It is a house of cards, buffeted by growing regional turbulence. All Iraqi eyes are riveted anxiously on events in neighboring Syria, hoping to learn what its sectarian-tinged civil war will portend for Iraq’s own delicate ethno-sectarian fabric — and for their own fortunes. Maliki and his allies claim to harbor no sympathy for the regime of Bashar al-Asad, yet they find themselves supporting it mainly because they dread what they believe will emerge in the wake of its collapse: a new fundamentalist Sunni order, backed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as Turkey, that will build on its victory to train its sights on the Shi‘i Islamists ruling Iraq. In the grand scheme of things, as Maliki’s circles see it, what is happening in Syria represents a new episode in a wider Sunni-Shi‘i, as well as Arab-Persian, struggle between the two erstwhile empires, Ottoman and Safavid. That battle could easily be extended to include Iraq’s fractured terrain with its many unresolved conflicts and its politics a shambles.

Whether such multi-state alliances are really girding for battle is less important than the perception that they are, which is shared widely among Iraq’s political class. Some Iraqi politicians speak hyperbolically of a coming “Chernobyl,” a calamity that can no longer be averted and whose impact cannot be contained. This looming clash is then reduced to its constituent parts, with a resort to “ideal types” that misrepresent the rich complexities of the Iraqi mosaic: Sunni Arab vs. Shi‘i Arab, Arab vs. Kurd, pro-Iranian vs. anti-Iranian. Conspiracy theories are rife. The notion that the battle has already begun in its various covert ways helps prepare the ground for the actual fight, which then becomes inevitable, a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Iraq: What Remains

 International Crisis Group

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