Iraq is witnessing a period of disorder and confusion similar to the state of chaos that prevailed over the country following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Mystery continues to surround the situation, particularly regarding the Iraqi Army’s perplexing retreat in the face of militia forces. Such actions are unworthy of a professional military force, particularly in terms of their operations in sensitive locations like the Iraqi cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and elsewhere. This inevitably raises questions regarding the responsibility that should be displayed by the Baghdad leadership.
The past decade has been a difficult one for Iraq, and it crowns several more decades during which Iraq and its people suffered significant human and material losses as a result of misguided wars and policies. In April, Iraq witnessed elections that were endorsed by millions of its citizens, however superficially. However, the reality is that they have also been met with anger by large sections of the Iraqi people, amid accusations that there were sectarian and ethnic quotas. This has threatened the state’s institutions and the opportunities for genuine coexistence between different components of the state, ultimately leading to the collapse of the dream to create a unified state that guarantees Iraqi unity.
Today, Iraq is facing a number of threats that cannot and must not be met with silence. This is not just for the sake of Iraq, but for the sake of the region as a whole. There is the threat of terrorism and terrorist groups exploiting the fragile situation in Baghdad. Those calling for murder, persecution and discrimination, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and those who support those pursuing this end must instead prioritize the interests of Iraq and the Iraqi people. They must also disregard the claims of such groups and figures who say that they can build the hoped-for civil state that will embrace the people’s aspirations and protect their children.
On the other hand, it is impossible to build a state amid the enforcement of sectarian privileges and the prioritization of foreign interests above those of Iraqi brothers and state partners. Sectarian intolerance poses another boundless threat. The actions of certain parties in Iraq are opening the door to the specter of sectarian conflict, which has been casting a shadow over the country for years. The threat of sectarian conflict in Iraq is something that has intermittently reared its ugly head, only to fade away.
The mobilization of the Iraqi people based on their sectarian loyalty portends a far more dangerous war than any we have seen in the country before. The sectarian discourse and statements from leaders on various sides has also increased due to the increasingly complicated situation in the country—to the point that we are facing a power-keg situation that will likely result either in massacres or the partition of the country.
The threat of partition and the demise of Iraq as we know it and the repercussions that would inevitably have on the region at large mean that everybody must take a courageous stand and seriously review the situation. Some people doubt that the partition of Iraq is now a foregone conclusion. Anyone who is promoting this view is acting as if Iraq is made up of three separate boundaries that can easily be separated from one another, forgetting the rich mix of the Iraqi people and the historic ties that bind them together. Such a partition would not be easily achieved; it would be bloody and have unimaginable consequences. The aftershocks would hit the entire region, most prominently Syria, which has benefitted from the reshuffling of cards caused by the situation in Iraq.
The world is preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War later this year. As we look back at this conflict and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it is clear that the redrawing of the map of the region that followed this war did not serve the interests of its people. The Sykes–Picot boundaries have only led to setbacks and fighting and displacement. Iraq must therefore be aware of the threat of what is happening, and the Arabs must play their role in protecting the sovereignty and stability of Iraq. We must not allow any party to exploit the vacuum, or imagine that division would be easy. The decisions—and the future—are ours.