Millennium Post

Graveyard of foreign policy

As this article goes to print, Iraqi troops are engaged in fighting a bitter battle to death guarding the Baiji oil refinery and Tal afar airport in northern Iraq against the Sunni militant group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant / al-Sham). Baiji refinery is Iraq’s biggest and in case the terrorists gain control of that, a whole new chapter will open up in the chequered and inglorious history of not just Iraq, but the Gulf in large.

With Iraq’s premier Nouri al-Maliki formally requesting the US, the architect-in-chief of the crisis in the first place, all that remains is a muddled exigency of irresponsibilities and flimsy pretexts upon which the global military-industrial complex sustains itself. In the current episode of the Iraq crisis, which seems to return once every decade with a haunting frequency since 1980s, over 500,000 have fled their homes in the country’s second-biggest city, Mosul, which the ISIS wrenched from the Iraqi army last week. Cities like Tikrit, Samarra have fallen; Baghdad is on the brink, and perhaps, when this article gets read, it would have been under the ISIS’ thumbs already. With US president Barack Obama sending 4,000 troops to the civil war-infested country, and US secretary of state John Kerry mulling negotiations with Maliki, the monstrous transformation of Iraq from an officially secular nation to a hotbed of jihadist elements wreaking havoc on the Shia-Sunni sectarian fabric of the country, is a history of miscalculations, deliberate misdecisions and a stupendous failure of the very premise of ‘humanitarian intervention.’  

Syrian spill-over
Even though a prolonged water crisis in Syria was one of the primary forces driving the discontent against Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian but secular regime, the Syrian rebels had an entirely different agenda, clearly bordering on the jihadist. That US-led NATO had mulled arming the rebels when reports of chemical weapons being used by Assad to quash the rising dissent in his country rocked the world last year, is one more indication of the staggering wrong it has backed over the years.
For the longest time, West was apprehensive about lending support to the spontaneous uprisings of Arab Spring in 2011, and when it did, it was to the counterrevolutionary forces that toppled the first democratically elected regime in Egypt. That the West has shamelessly propped up the Al-Sisi government in Egypt that has brutally cracked down on the country’s biggest political party Muslim Brotherhood and sent its chief and former president Mubarak to jail is another feather on its bloodied cap. But supporting the Syrian rebels, who have direct dealings with the ISIS militants and belong to the larger conglomerate promoting a jihadist cause, against Assad was another tactical choice that the West made knowing very well that the crisis would spill over to engulf Iraq and try its luck against Iran as well.

Naturally, the West wants to distance itself from the Sunni jihadists, the Baathists and the tribal militiamen who have felled Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra and are closing in on Baghdad. But even though its once blue-eyed boy Iraqi PM Maliki has blundered his way into international diplomacy, did he have much to begin with, in the first place? He has not been able to constitute a democratic, pluralistic Iraq from the ruins of 2003 invasion and the bloody spectacle of the hanging of Saddam Hussein because after the late president was executed, there was no glue to hold together the sectarian forces simmering within Iraq and the greater West Asia. Shiite Maliki had driven out Sunni leaders from his government, but unless there was external support for purportedly extremist elements looking to redraw the map of the Middle East and destabilise popularly elected regimes, such forces could not have festered and couldn’t have taken over swathes of northern Iraq.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq by US,UK-led NATO forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the bedrock of immorality on which the crisis that threatens to never end has been erected. Not only did it lead to a complete breakdown of the Iraqi state, it unleashed the hitherto kept in check forces that worked along strong Sunni-Shia divides, and sought to widen the existing gap between them. Being a Shia-majority state in a Sunni-majority greater West Asia, Iraq under Hussein, as well as under Maliki, had been governed by a thin crust of Shia elites, that had kept the Sunnis, particularly those with fanatic bents, in control, politically and socioeconomically. The 2003 invasion, led by then US president George W Bush and cheered on by British prime minister Tony Blair, under the pretext of looking for the mythical weapons of mass destruction, became the ultimate push that hurtled Iraq towards an unending diplomatic and political abyss. Within weeks of the NATO troops crossing the border, Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square was pulled down, the library destroyed and eventually immersed Iraq into a near civil war in 2006 before the captive president was summarily hanged in public.

Yet from 2007, the all-American promises of reconstituting Iraq and building a temple of democracy in that war-beleaguered country, began to dissolve away. From a mission accomplished, Iraq became a mission abandoned, and the change of guard in White House happened over the about-turn on Iraq: the pledge to end it all, bring back the troops, ensure phased withdrawal. Lofty notions of liberations got lost as leaks on the atrocities committed by US army in Iraq came to light: a Wikileaks video showing an Apache fighter plane shooting locals in Baghdad, killing a Reuters photographer in the process, went viral online. It was time for the US to extricate itself from the mess that it had created in Iraq. Obama had to undo the years of misguided adventure, yet all he could achieve was a terrible abandonment, an irresponsible act to the core.       
Sunni majority parts of Iraq had never accepted the Shiite rulers, whether in Hussein or in Maliki. The ISIS, which is group of Sunni militants of a transnational kind, an offshoot of the al-Qaida and intend to form an Islamic caliphate of sort, have their bases in countries like Syria, Lebanon, in addition to Iraq. Northern and western Iraq has festered this motley group as the administration had turned a blind eye to their presence, unless taking some down in particular encounters. The current crisis has erected a wall between autonomous Kurdistan in the north and Shia-majority heavily populated southern Iraq. The old battle lines have been redrawn, evidently.
Can India help? Over the past decade, Indian regimes have only distanced themselves from the Iraqi quagmire, even though New Delhi is heavily-dependent on Baghdad for oil and fossil fuels. The security of over seven million Indian nations working in the Gulf notwithstanding, it is time for India to start having a greater say in West Africa and North African (WANA) countries. Hopefully, that would be a counter weight to the strategic blunders committed by the West in the name of democracy.
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