Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Iraq and the Sectarian Strife Ahead | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55342124

Iraqi Shiite fighters, members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization units backing the government, fire Howitzer Cannons towards ISIS positions on March 7, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Imagine this scene: Sunni militias, backed by the Iraqi government, US and Gulf states, fighting Shi’ite terrorist groups. What would the outcome be? Certainly, one does not need to be a genius to realize that the result would undoubtedly be tragic and disastrous. We would witness massacres, a state of insecurity and mass liquidations based on sectarian lines.

This is exactly what is happening in Iraq right now, bar the identity of the players. Shi’ite militias, or the so-called Hashed Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization forces, are supplied with weapons and military equipment by the Baghdad government and backed by the US and, of course, Iran, which boasts about Baghdad becoming the capital of its empire. These Shi’ite militias are fighting the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Sunni-populated areas of Iraq. One can only imagine that these militias will be carrying out horrible acts against those they claim to be terrorists. How could a militia act like a regular army when it bases its ideology on sectarian principles rather than those of the state? Ultimately, it is the sect, not the state, that will prevail.

Sectarianism has never been as prevalent as it is now in our region. The result would be the same, whether it was Sunni militias fighting Shi’ite terrorist groups or vice versa. As for the Iraqi government’s decision to give up its role and instead commission illegal militias to act on its behalf, it will only lead to destruction. Hezbollah in Lebanon is the best example of this. The idea of militias in the first place is, no matter how we sugarcoat facts and describe them in terms that appeal to the public, an indication of government weakness. When armed by, and allied to, official bodies, militias pose a great danger; when they are made up of members from one sect, militias turn into a state inside a state. In fact they become more powerful and popular than the state. Would it be surprising to see those militias carrying out mass acts of revenge against innocent people whom they accuse of being terrorists, or at least collaborators with terrorists? This is exactly what ISIS is doing against those who do not belong to it.

Shi’ite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr has added fuel to the fire by blaming the predominantly Sunni population of Mosul for their lax approach towards ISIS. Sadr did not stop there but called on his Saraya Al-Salam militia to be ready to take part in the liberation of Mosul. His comments amount to a serious provocation against the people of Mosul whom he has accused of being in collusion with terrorist groups, while portraying Shi’ite militias as the heroes that will liberate them from terrorism.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi Vice-President Osama Al-Nujaifi said: “There are 50,000 soldiers from Mosul ready to participate in the battle to liberate the city but they lack the weapons.”

Imagine a country whose government thinks the solution to defeating one militia is to arm another and give it free rein to fight. Meanwhile, Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian Quds Force Commander, boasts about his soldiers being at the vanguard of forces fighting terrorist groups in Iraq.

After the US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent government vacuum and the Iranian interference, there were voices asking Saudi Arabia to intervene to protect Sunnis from the lack of security there. But Riyadh continued its efforts to bring all Iraqis together under the umbrella of the state, not the sect.

Today, under US sponsorship and with the approval of the Iraqi government, Tehran is exploiting the conditions that have resulted from the rise of ISIS, seeking to send its soldiers and militias to “cleanse” Sunni-populated areas from Sunni terrorism.

The Sunni community in Iraq has long suffered since the era of Saddam Hussein, to whom they are unjustly linked. Later they suffered from the terrorist groups who, though fighting in their name, have done them great harm. Today they are also suffering from those preventing them from taking part in the liberation of their city of Mosul while branding them ISIS members with sectarian militias waiting for the right time to attack.

Everyone is responsible for, and taking part in, the growing sectarian strife in Iraq. If the stage is left for sectarian militias, we would be saying goodbye to Iraq and Iraqis. At the time of sectarian violence, no one emerges victorious.