Will Iraq’s Shiites Secede?

Also, changes in the regional environment contribute to a greater push towards separatist  solutions. Iran, in particular, has altered its approach to Iraq in a dramatic way since the emergence of ISIS. In unprecedented ways, it is openly acknowledging and even propagandizing its military support for the Iraqi government through the presence of Iranian advisors among Iraqi military forces deployed on the frontlines against ISIS. The confirmation by the Iraq parliament of an interior minister with a background in the Iran-sponsored Badr brigades arguably gives Tehran more direct influence in Iraq’s security forces than they had under Maliki.

The optics of the Iraqi battlefield look increasingly sectarian as well. In the north-west country almost all the territory recaptured by Iraqi government forces from ISIS are areas associated with Shiite minorities or Kurdish territorial claims. Also recent Iraq government victories in the Jurf al-Sakhar area in Babel, while covering Sunni-minority lands, essentially fall into a picture of wider Shiite consolidation in a core territory from Basra to Samarra.

There are however still some important exceptions to the general trend towards sectarian fragmentation in a territorial sense. This relates above all to Iraqi Sunnis that want nothing to do with ISIS. In a macro perspective this can be seen above all in Anbar, where several key areas including Ramadi still remain outside direct ISIS control. Those who say the quick fall of Mosul is sign that ISIS enjoys general Sunni Iraqi legitimacy will have trouble accounting for the continued existence of pockets of resistance to ISIS among Sunnis in Anbar.

If the fall of Mosul to ISIS is proof that Shia discrimination of Sunnis is the underlying cause of the current troubles, then why didn’t all of Anbar also immediately fall? Also at the level of individual politicians, these tendencies can be seen. Provincial councils of Anbar and Nineveh alike continue to operate outside ISIS-controlled territory and repeatedly have condemned ISIS. Prominent Iraqi Sunni politicians like Usama al-Nujayfi have made a point of visiting the Shiite clergy in cities like Najaf and Karbala, which of course is anathema to the rabidly anti-Shiite ISIS.


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