Iraq: The Challenges Ahead


By Mosa Zahed

London, 29 Aug. (MEFD)M.Zahed

Following Maliki’s impending departure, many Iraqis hope that the dawn of a new era has arrived which will end eight years of his dictatorial rule dominated by sectarianism. The Maliki legacy will be one that is characterised by executions, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other ill treatment of ordinary Iraqi citizens, most of them belonging to minority groups, particularly Sunni Arabs. By appointing thousands of incompetent and corrupt officials during his tenure, Maliki effectively prevented Iraq from becoming a state with functioning institutions, and by simultaneously running a campaign of killing and terror against his critics, he excluded and alienated many from political process. 

Maliki’s close affiliation with Iran provided unconditional support for pro-Iranian Shia militias enabling these groups to annihilate ordinary Iraqi citizens and Maliki’s political opponents with impunity for many years. In addition, Maliki proved willing to tarnish Iraq’s international reputation by ordering Iraqi forces, at the behest of Tehran, to attack Camp Ashraf, a camp of Iranian refugees located north of Baghdad, on at least three occasions resulting in the death of more than 100 residents and many wounded.

Shia militias under direct order of Qasem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, have been using Iraq with Maliki’s endorsement as a hub for Iran’s export of terrorism and fundamentalism into the region. In addition, Iran has been delivering military equipment to Syrian government forces over Iraqi airspace, throwing a lifeline to its regional ally Bashar Assad in order to prevent the collapse of his regime.

Iran’s regional ambitions and western governments’ failure to act in Syria have provided a deadly recipe for the current crisis in Iraq, and as a result the medieval terrorist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has flourished in both countries. The savagery of ISIS has had devastating consequences for all ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, but for Christians and Yazidis in particular. Maliki’s utter failure in building a competent national Iraqi army to defend its population was perhaps best portrayed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in June when government forces immediately fled following confrontation with ISIS, which left tens of thousands exposed to the savagery of the latter. 400,000 Yazidis have been forced to flee their lands dreading genocide at the hands of ISIS. The European commission estimates that from January to August 2014 approximately 1.2 million people were internally displaced in Iraq.

Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser emphasised regarding the situation in northern Iraq that, “Once again beleaguered civilians in Iraq find themselves trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence from all sides. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in terror of abductions and killings by ISIS and air strikes by government forces, as all sides are showing utter disregard for international humanitarian law”.

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Iraq, Iran strikes perhaps the most extraordinary hypocritical note of all actors involved. Last Sunday, the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, began a two-day visit to Iraq to discuss the implications of the current crisis with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari as well as the PM-designate al-Abadi. During these meetings Zarif cunningly presented Iran as part of the solution in restoring the security situation in Iraq. “Iran and Iraq have deep and broad relations and supporting this country’s democratic trend, territorial integrity, and national unity is very important for the Islamic Republic of Iran” Zarif said according to state-sponsored Press TV. These claims are hardly credible in view of the facts and numbers of Iraqi intellectuals and politicians on Qasem Suleimani’s hit list, who were assassinated because of their commitment to rebuilding an Iraq based on those very ideas, but without Iranian interference. Iran has in fact been a major part of the problem in Iraq by solidly backing Maliki and vigorously disrupting the democratic process via its militias in order to prevent the country from achieving independence and national unity.

What is even more striking is that some western leaders, such as British PM David Cameron, appear to believe that an alliance with Iran can help in the fight against ISIS in Iraq as well as Syria. Such statements clearly indicate the naivety of these politicians concerning the regional predicament.

It is noteworthy that ISIS has served the interests of the Iran, Syria and Iraq axis on fundamental occasions. In Syria, Assad’s regime has left ISIS mainly intact as it slaughters Assad’s moderate opponents who are considered a bigger strategic threat to his power. In Iraq, according to Maliki’s decree, anyone who objects to the sectarian policies of the central government is considered a member of ISIS. Maliki uses ISIS as a pretext to crush dissent and even the former Sunni vice-president of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi, saw terrorist charges laid against him under Maliki’s tenure.

The Iraqi PM-designate al-Abadi must now invest all his energy in reversing the sectarian policies of his predecessor by addressing the concerns of all Iraq’s citizens, including the Sunni Arab minority, and end the monopolisation of power. Sunni Arab tribes made a significant difference in the fight against al-Qaeda in 2007 and Iraq witnessed a decrease in the level of violence as a result. These same tribesmen can have a substantial impact again in the battle against ISIS. However, al-Abadi’s success in the challenges that await him will largely depend on whether he will be able to distance himself from the theocrats in Tehran.

Mosa Zahed is the founding director of Middle East Forum for Development 

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