Political rifts threaten Iraq's anti-IS coalition

While a coalition of the willing is being formed to tackle the Islamic State (IS), international and local political divisions still threaten to tear it apart, leaving IS the only winner.

al-monitor A Shiite volunteer from brigades loyal to radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr mans a machine gun in front of a picture of Sadr (L) and the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, in Samarra, July 13, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani.

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united states, syria, muqtada al-sadr, islamic state, iraq, iran, coalition

Sep 17, 2014

Achieving a perfect Iraqi consensus about the war on the Islamic State (IS) has been a concern for the country ever since IS invaded Fallujah at the beginning of this year and, subsequently, the province of Mosul in June.

However, reaching this consensus was always hindered by political and security problems that are not related to the parties' positions on the terrorist group. All Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties have condemned the crimes committed by IS and have reiterated the need to unite to fight it. Yet, harmony has not yet been reached to achieve this objective.

The Sunni leaders would deny the IS presence in Sunni towns one day and the next declare that the rebel tribes were the ones who occupied the towns. Then they would recognize IS, but refuse to get involved in its war under the wings of the previous Iraqi government. For years, they accused the government of using militias, random airstrikes, political exclusion and adopting security measures that wronged the citizens.

However, the lack of harmony is not limited to the Sunni party. The Kurds in Iraq were not at harmony with the trends of the previous government either. The previous administration exchanged accusations with Kurdish leaders and refused to coordinate with the peshmerga forces, even after two months of IS expansion in the northern Iraqi cities, followed by the group's decision to move toward the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) borders and threaten their capital. At the time, the KRG accused Baghdad of refusing to reinforce the peshmerga, while Baghdad was accusing the KRG of hosting extremist Sunni leadership opposing the government.

The Sunni and Kurdish agreements with the government seem to have found a wide space to reach a solution when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi replaced the government of Nouri al-Maliki. Abadi’s government made a series of decisions to achieve internal Iraqi cohesion regarding the war on IS. Most importantly, the new government decided to end the bombing of cities, agree on the political settlements concerning previous conflicts, support the reinforcement of the Kurdish peshmerga, support the international alliance to fight IS and respond to the security arrangements that will significantly allow Sunni and Kurdish forces to fight IS on the battlefield and participate on the political level in the decision in Baghdad.

Internal Iraqi harmony seems to be on the path to finally being achieved, in parallel with the international consensus that is being reached after the decisions made at the Jeddah and Paris conferences to help Iraq free Iraqi cities from the extremist group.

However, this harmony has been threatened again. The first threat was on the international level when Iran began to show hesitation toward cooperating with the United States in fighting the war, in addition to Washington’s objection to cooperating with Iran. The second threat was on the internal Iraqi level when Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, along with an armed Shiite group called the “Hezbollah Brigades,” announced their refusal to fight IS alongside the United States, in addition to threatening to withdraw from the battles or resist any force that would attack them.

The intriguing part is that the lack of consensus regarding the war against IS was never based on fighting the group. IS has always been an enemy and a great threat to everyone. However, it remains the biggest winner over the past few months due to the lack of harmony on the Iraqi, regional and international levels.

The Iraqi conflicts and the international obstacles have served IS a great deal and contributed in providing the group with opportunities to expand, earn supporters and impose its power over large areas in both Syria and Iraq.

In any case, Iraqis cannot impose an international consensus nor can they convince the conflicting countries that IS represents a major threat to the international community.

Abadi's speech was very clear concerning this matter, when he spoke of the need to have everyone participate in the decision to start a war against IS, saying, “It does not matter whether everyone participates in the war or not, but it is crucial for everyone to participate in the decision.”

What is required today is to reconsider the regional and international objectives to make space for achieving the least harmony possible to fight IS. The Iraqis, being the most concerned party in this matter, are required to overcome their differences and affiliations and avoid engaging in new conflicts that IS could exploit to expand throughout new areas in Iraq.

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