No End in Sight for Iraq’s Security and Political Paralysis

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    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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Headlines on Iraq these days continue to be dominated by two main themes: the inability of the country’s political class to come up with a long-lasting political solution that addresses the concerns of the Sunni minority, and the increasing sectarian violence that threatens to explode in an all-out civil war. While the last few days have seen some progress politically with the election of the new president and speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Nuri Al-Maliki’s continued insistence in claiming a third governing mandate has paralyzed the country. Meanwhile, ISIS militias continue to empty their newly acquired territories of Christians and other minorities, in an effort to consolidate their self-proclaimed caliphate.

Addressing the current impasse in Iraq, a recent editorial on UAE’s main daily The National compared the behavior of Iraqi politicians to the infamous  Roman emperor Nero, who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned: “The bartering in Baghdad stands in sharp contrast to the destruction and terror just to the city’s north. There is a certain surreal quality to the politics of Iraq these days. The election last week of veteran Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum as president of Iraq is a welcome step forward. Now, Iraq’s politicians will discuss, argue, horse-trade and decide who becomes prime minister. And yet this slow, step by step dance of politics stands in stark contrast to the existential threat that Iraq itself currently faces. The politicians act as if these were ordinary times. But even by the standards of the astonishingly dangerous and complex decade that Iraq has had until now, these are extraordinary times.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial also take issue with the slow pace of political reform and the unwillingness of Prime Minister Maliki to make way for a more reconciliatory candidacy: “Ten days ago they elected their speaker. Now they have elected a president. But the crucial choice still to be made by Iraq’s legislators is their next prime minister. Outgoing two-term premier Nuri Al-Maliki is still insisting that, because he leads the largest minority party in the new parliament, he should have the job and once again lead a coalition government….Even though his party hacks are still fighting for his survival, it may be there is a wider appreciation that now is the moment to call time on Maliki’s calamitous political leadership. The election of Salim Al-Jabouri, a Sunni, as the parliament’s speaker has been followed by the choice of Fouad Massoum, a Kurd, as president….There are credible reports that Sunni tribal leaders are recoiling from the uncompromising barbarity of ISIS and the absurdity of their self-declared caliphate. But they are not going to rip out this terrorist cancer unless they believe that the position of Sunni’s within a multi-communal Iraq will be restored.  Maliki could no more give that assurance than he could fly to the moon.”

According to some of the region’s commentators, Iraqi politicians are not the only ones missing in action. Asharq Alawsat’s Suleiman Gouda, for example, takes issue with U.S. reluctance to get involved in Iraq and push back against the ISIS advance: “Mosul is empty of its 50,000 Christian citizens, according to Bashar Al-Kiki, head of the Nineveh Governorate Council. He said there were many Christians in the city in 2003, but 30,000 of them had since left—and now the appearance of ISIS has resulted in the remainder leaving too….Mosul has been emptied of its Christian citizens twice, once at the hands of the Americans and another at the hands of ISIS, and we hear nothing from the U.S. other than silence, just as it kept silent when many Copts left Egypt during the one-year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood—though the Americans used to raise hell when just one Copt was subjected to the most minor harm during the days of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.”

The only response to the ISIS advance that the Shia political class seems to have come up with is the creation of their own militia, which now appear to be doing their own part to increase the sectarian violence in the country: “Iraqi Shia militias have drawn up hit lists of suspected Sunni insurgents to be kidnapped, executed and hung in public, security and police officials said, raising the stakes in a sectarian war tearing the country apart. The militias became a vital line of defence for the Shia-led government after the army collapsed in the face of a June advance by Sunni Islamic State militants who seized large swathes of land in the north and aim to march on Baghdad….Events in Baquba, an ethnically mixed town 65km northeast of Baghdad, this week illustrate the methods the militias are adopting to discourage Sunnis from joining Islamic State, which believes Shias are apostates who deserve to die. Basim Amir Al Jubouri left home on July 20 to run his small food shop. He was kidnapped en route by Shia militia forces.  Jubouri’s body was hung from an electricity pole in a public square in Baquba on Wednesday, along with 14 others, a warning to anyone with sympathies for Islamic State.”

The mass exodus of Christians from the Iraqi cities captured by the Islamic State, according to Kuwait Times’ Muna Al-Fuzai, underlines the ruthlessness of the self-proclaimed caliphate leaders, thus undermining their claim to represent the Muslim community: “ISIS militants have formally declared an ‘Islamic State’ with a new caliphate in Syria and Iraq demanding that all Muslims ‘pledge allegiance’ to its leader….Now IS is targeting Christians in Iraq by forcing them out of their new gained territories by leaving or pay tribute. As it is, the number of Christians is very low. This is not the act of a Muslim state but a terror group that is portraying the worst image of Islam to the world. It is clear that IS is carrying its mission very successfully. It is a risky one and the humans’ rights risks are growing bigger and darker.”

Reports by Aswat al-Iraq suggest that the creation of the Shia militias to counter the IS advance appears to have inspired the Christian minorities to call for the creation of similar sectarian militias: “Warka’ Bloc called the Christian youths to volunteer to fight against Da’ish gunmen. In a statement, the Bloc reviewed the crisis of Mosul and displaced people, confirming the need to fight Da’ish by the Christian youths. It stressed the need to be supplied by arms and ammunition to defend the country.”

Unfortunately, talk of the creation of new militias does not point to a diplomatic solution to the current security crisis in Iraq. If anything, things are more likely to get worse, if reports by the Kuwait News Agency regarding a USD 1 billion-arms deal with Russia are to be believed: “[Iraq] has recently signed a USD 1 billion-worth deal with Russian government to provide Iraqi army with heavy artillery, ballistic missile systems and ammunition. The Russian Interfax News Agency reported Wednesday that the deal was signed during a recent visit by Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun Al-Dulaimi to Moscow. It added that the deal also includes, among others things, providing Iraqi army with Grad missiles and armored vehicles. Talks are also underway to sell Iraq ten Su-27 jet fighters, the report disclosed.”

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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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