Iraq Avoids Disintigration

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki stepping down, together with the involvement of U.S. airpower in support of Kurdish peshmerga fighting ISIS militants and an apparent desire by the Sunni minority to engage politically with Baghdad, have all brought the country back from the brink of total breakup. The appointment of a new prime minister is a major part of the positive trend, as Maliki, already deeply unpopular among Sunnis, had lost the support of his allies in the United States and Iran. Much remains to be done, but the Iraqis can perhaps take heart that, for the time being at least, ISIS will not be marching on Baghdad.

Following weeks of reports on the Islamic State’s violent and no-holds-barred terror tactics, there is a general consensus the that the Islamist group must be stopped at all costs. For example, the Gulf Today staff emphasized in a recent editorial that there international community should show no mercy to the ISIS, eliminating it if it can, adding then that: “It is indeed positive news that the United States has already struck the dogmatic outfit. President Barack Obama said a week of air strikes had broken the siege of the Sinjar mountain where civilians had been hiding for days. Even the European Union ministers’ agreement to back the arming of the Kurdish fighters should help in a big way to eliminate the ISIS. In another potentially game-changing development, 25 Sunni tribes in the western Anbar province announced a coordinated effort to oust the ISIS fighters. There is no choice but to see the end of an organization that sheds innocent blood in the name of hoisting the flag of faith.”

Likewise, the Khaleej Times editorial takes a hard line against the militants, identifying them as an “existential threat,” while regretting the fact that the West did not act sooner to take them out: “Had they been exterminated in Syria itself, and the West had not blundered by pampering radical militias against President Bashar Al Assad, the geostrategic reality would have been different. But now the West, especially London, is having nightmares as it fears that the dreaded group haunts geopolitical peace of not only Iraq but also shores far away from the Middle East….These are serious issues and demand comprehensive policy introspection. The least that needs to be done is to stem the onslaught of the IS and disarm them well within the Iraqi territory. Their spillover across the borders once again would be catastrophic. It is, indeed, an existential threat to the region and civility.”

But the West must be careful not to interpret this cry for help as an endorsement of its previous policies in the region. At least that is the argument put forward by Sharif Nashashibi in an op-ed for Al Jazeera where he criticizes the West for its dubious record of intervention: “Taking on the Islamic State group carries great risks, despite the necessity of doing so….Middle Easterners are inherently suspicious of Western intervention in the region given its destructive record. Many also oppose Iran’s growing influence, as well as Iraqi Kurds’ territorial expansion and aspirations for independence. That all these parties are involved may inadvertently cause others to rally to the Islamic State group, and not necessarily because they share the same ideology. After all, its rapid expansion in Iraq since June has been helped by being part of a coalition of Sunni forces that does not share its jihadist outlook. They have fought alongside the group due to vehement opposition to Nouri al-Maliki — who has just stepped down as prime minister — and more broadly to Sunni disenfranchisement since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.”

Still, there is a sense that Iraq and the Iraqis are ready to turn a new page in their long history. In this context, the Peninsula editorial welcomes the end of the outgoing PM Al Maliki’s divisive rule and expresses hope that the new PM-designate Mr. Al Abadi will prove to be a more conciliatory figure: “Al Maliki’s fall does not come as a surprise. During his eight-year rule, Iraq saw alienation of Kurd and Sunni minorities. The recent uprising of ISIS and the bloodbath in Iraq is the result of his neglect of Sunnis. Though only time will tell whether Al Abadi would be able to restore peace in Iraq but one thing is clear — Al Maliki failed to give Iraqis a peaceful life. …However, the road ahead for Al Abadi, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Manchester, is not going to be smooth. He will have to ensure that the new government has a proper representation of various sections of Iraq.”

Continuing on this positive trend in Iraq related commentary, Al Arabiya’s Raghida Dergham asserts that the rapid gains by ISIS have actually been very helpful in stirring the Sunni community in and out of Iraq into action: “The events in Iraq this week may represent the beginning of a new approach in Saudi-Iranian ties….This is an important step that opens up the possibility of Iraq serving as a gateway to broader agreements not only within the country, but also to regional agreements, specifically regards Saudi-Iranian relations….Perhaps history will note later what some now only whisper, that ISIS is a necessary evil as a ‘correction’ of Iran’s excessive domination over Iraq, the fate of Syria, and the fate of Lebanon….It might be said that were it not for ISIS’ transformation into a monster that terrorized everyone, Sunni moderation would not have been revived, and neither would stopping Shiite extremism have been possible.”

But, cautions a recent Saudi Gazette editorial,  the West ought not to overplay its mandate against ISIS, nor should it misinterpret it as an invitation to get involved in a similar manner in other countries: “Libya’s new parliament has called for foreign intervention to stem the rising tide of anarchy into which the country has been plunged in recent months. The irony is that foreign intervention is what got Libya into its present state of chaos….No physical foreign intervention is going to reverse this situation. The new parliament currently meeting in the safety of Tobruk knows this perfectly well. But there is indeed something that the outside world can do to at least diminish the turmoil in Libya. Those governments that have been actively encouraging groups with arms and cash should butt out. This applies particularly to Islamist militias and their allies.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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