Should Western countries (or China) intervene to stop the advance of killers and torturers in Iraq?

We are watching the establishment of the first caliphate in recent times: ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). This is possibly the most distant political entity in comparison with liberal and secular societies.

The local people who didn’t or couldn’t flee are subject to harsh rituals of a strict Sharia. As a footnote, the rise of ISIS demonstrates the failure of the US led invasion of Iraq after 2001, as well the unapt policies of the Iraqi prime minster Maliki. Also, it amply demonstrates the second failed state in the same region, next to Syria. Given the volatile situation in the whole area – Afganistan, Pakistan, possibly Saudi Arabia – this urgent question arises.

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  1. Stefan Engert 4 years ago

    Iraq 2014: Chronicle of a death foretold
    Can we really pretend we are surprised by the recent events in Iraq? No, not really! With the US gone in December 2011, when the country was hardly in a stable situation, anarchy took over again and, alas, it was deeply logical that the events took such a route: Any realist would have easily predicted that with the Iraqi population divided up into 50 per cent Shia, 30 per cent Sunni and 15 per cent Kurdish people – a tri-polar imbalance of power “perfectly” prone to conflict – the country would sooner or later find itself back in a bloody civil war and domestic struggle for power. Meanwhile the “Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIS), a jihadist-Sunni militia movement, has conquered the cities of Mosul, Tikrit, with considerable highly-sophisticated military equipment, a large sum of central bank US Dollars and some of the most important oil wells – enough revenues to finance their future activities and to create instability for the next decade.

    What to expect in the meantime? Well, with all actors firmly entrapped in a Realpolitik-dilemma, it is not difficult to forecast even more violence: Iraq still ranks second in the world in regard to oil reserves – that’s too much to be ignored. US President Obama has already talked about the possibility of air strikes – and the more ISIS becomes militarily successful, the more likely such a scenario is. Too, Nouri al-Maliki, current (Shia) prime minister of Iraq as well as the Shia majority population will find support in Teheran (Rohani) and Damascus (al-Assad). What’s more, the Kurdish region could drag NATO-member Turkey into the conflict, too. With the US-American, Iranian, Syrian and Turkish principals all having particular interests in a balanced Iraqi agent, the likelihood of an armed military intervention from the outside before this summer ends is rather a certainty than a probability. Yet, with already 1 million Iraqis on the run (forced expulsion), the ultimate question remains how to bring a lasting stability to the region beyond short-term strategic gains thinking.

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  2. Alexei Voskressenski 4 years ago

    The possibility of a constructive partnership with Iran against a possibly aggressive caliphate is a new cheering option, but we are witnessing a possible war between Sunni and Shia that can only be further accelerated by all Shia union against Sunni. The best solution could be the construction of a partnership between moderate Sunni islam and moderate Shiism in a modern state that can incorporate and tolerate both. The only question to resolve is who will announce that and who will guarantee such a political development?

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  1. Torge Matthiesen 4 years ago

    Relating to the domestic dimension, I would like to shed a light on the low level of legitimation and governmental representation which the Shia dominated government under Prime Minister Maliki was and is enjoying among the Sunni population in Iraq. The regional pattern of Isis-controlled territory seems to resemble the provinces that had spun out of control during the full blown insurgency of 2004-2007. Besides an altered military approach, this prolem was temporarily overcome by more inclusive policies during in the second half of Maliki`s first tenure from 2008 to 2010.

    With hindsight it seems that Maliki discontinued these policies as early as the American combat troops left Iraq in December 2010. With a defeat in Syria now imminent, Isis seems to strike against the soft underbelly which has been created by - a repeated - major failure to incorporate the interests of the Sunni minority in Iraq.

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  2. Christian Frank 4 years ago

    Bringing the events after September 11 into a first conclusion, the world today is witnessing the breakup of the Middle East along confessional and in parts ethnic lines. With the breakup of artificial nation states, created after the end of WWI, the last remaining (so far stable states) like Saudi Arabia and Iran are deeply engaged in proxy conlficts. No one is surprised anymore when I say that the "Arab Spring" already turned into a wet and cold winter!
    To me, it is time for cooperation among nation states - especially between the US and Iran, but also Saudi Arabia. No one can ignore anymore that the Iran is the main powerholder (and winner!) in the region - bridging the "Shia - Axis: Lebanon - Damascus - Baghdad - Teheran". The West, but also other powerful countries like Russia and China, need to be aware whom to work with. Spreading democracy and Human Rights into a region deeply entrapped in hundred years old conficts was a myth! Interventionist policies after September 11 only worsened the situation and opened deeply situated memories in the minds of the people inhabiting the area.

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  3. Wisam Salih 4 years ago

    In response to the question posed: absolutely. Iraq's neighbours specifically, and the international community generally, have a vested interest in a secure and stable nation. All countries in MENA are interconnected. The spillover of violence from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon and Iraqis evidence of this. All countries in the region must be involved: the United States, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the GCC states. For once, all countries involved have a mutual interest in defeating ISIS and company. The delivery of lethal and non-lethal aid to the so-called rebel groups in Syria has ended up in the hands of ISIS. Going forward, all countries involved will need to reexamine military aid policies in the face of domestic conflict and civil war. Should there be some kind of intervention? Absolutely. The international community cannot sit back and allow events to unfold in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and not expect the problem to eventually make its way to their front doors. What might that intervention look like is a better question. The answer will undoubtably entail a multifaceted approach. Certainly, there will be a significant military response in the short term, which must be coupled with political concessions and a robust, long term economic development strategy. Anything short of this will mean disaster for all parties involved - first and foremost, the Iraqi people.

    For a closer look on how the United States can work with Iran to help Iraq, have a look at my article from January 2014:

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  4. Johannes 4 years ago

    As previous poster Christian stated, the real problem is the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 and all the artificial nation states in the WANA region. Seldom has a 'nation' been as heterogeneous as Iraq. That 'Iraq' simpy is never going to work out could be seen as early as 1950 when the 120.000 strong Jewish minority was expelled and found refuge in the young State of Israel. What has happened in recent times however is a collective failure. Saddam was a bad guy and I'm sure no one shed a tear for him, but under him the dictatorship was at least stable. So now we have a weak government and the power shared on religious lines and it all breaks apart. Should Iran do it Russia style and simply annex the Shiite parts of Iraq? Maybe. But at least there's one clear winner here, for democracy and historic justice. It's the Kurds. Their region is the only one in Iraq that is ruled by law in a democratic fashion, a very openminded and socialist people. They are also the only force in Iraq that can stand against ISIS. So that's why I vote for armind Kurdish Iraq to the teeth and let them take Mossul back. Kurdistan has too long been oppressed, now is their historic chance and they will take it. Turkey, of course, won't like it as it means that Kurds in Turkish Kurdistan will also become more self-confident. But we must not forget that Turkey is the one who brutally oppressed Turks since Atatürk double crossed them. Also Turkey supported the islamist fascists of ISIS because they hoped it would bring Assad down. Well, I guess they realized their mistake as the Turkish consulate was taken hostage by ISIS. 'If you go to bed with a whore, don't expect to wake up besides a virgin' is the only thing I can say to that. And one last word on the USA: Obama is the president of 'entrenchement' or American decline. He really doesn't want to go to war, no matter how many (American) interests are in danger, no matter if his red lines are crossed. Under his presidency there won't be more than drone strikes. It's his historical legacy. So the world has two more years without American military interventions. After Obama, however, expect another Bush who's taking all back that Obama 'lost'.

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  5. Johannes 4 years ago

    Correction (there really should be an edit post function here):

    So that’s why I vote for arming Kurdish Iraq to the teeth and let them take Mossul back.

    But we must not forget that Turkey is the one who brutally oppressed Kurds since Atatürk double crossed them.

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    1. Vanessa Ellingham 4 years ago

      Hi Johannes, this is Vanessa from the CGP team. Thanks for your suggestion for an edit function - I think it's a good idea so we'll see what is possible.

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    2. Vanessa Ellingham 4 years ago

      Hi Johannes. We've discussed the idea of an edit function on Global Matters and decided that it's best not to have it, because then anyone would have the ability to change what they had previously written without the other participants' knowledge and this could lead to confusion. However, if someone would like to remove a comment of theirs, for whatever reason, they are always welcome to contact us.

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  6. Wisam Salih 4 years ago

    @Johannes: I certainly appreciate your comments. However, I don't think the issue is with Sykes-Picot, although, it was an atrocious agreement. Simply arming Peshmerga forces in the KRG alone will not defeat ISIS. Even if the Kurds are able to control their borders within Iraq, ISIS can easily relocate to other parts of Iraq and Syria. As a side note, I'm not even sure the Peshmerga has the military capacity to fight these guys. ISIS has yet to engage the Kurdish elements in Iraq. So we don't know exactly what they can or cannot do in this regard.

    To go back to my earlier point on Sykes-Picot, the Iraqi nation exists live and well. One only needs a short trip to Baghdad to realize this. There is a significant sense of nationalism with Iraqis today. Even the rebel groups that have allied themselves for the time being with ISIS, are distinctly Iraqi. There have been reports that such Ba'athist groups refuse to allow any non-Iraqis into their senior circles. In fact, there have been repeated clashes between the Ba'athist militias and ISIS.

    That is all to say that what we need is significant capacity building (military and political) for the Iraqi central government. The Iraqi democratic project is failing, but it hasn't failed. When discussing Iraqi politics, I like to look to Lebanon which has a very similar modern history. Even in Lebanon, they haven't got it right. But nobody is suggesting the breakup of Lebanon along ethno-religious lines! The Iraqi government must find a way to reach consensus with Iraq's Sunni community in Anbar province, and also with the Iraqi Kurds in the North. This must be underpinned with a strong military plan to defeat armed groups where ever they exist. Now is the time for nation building and statecraft, not the breakup of a country that has existed for three generations (with or without Maliki). Question: what would a breakup or Iraq or Kurdish independence achieve for the rest of Iraqis? The KRG must work together with Baghdad to find a solution. As I stated in my previous comment, all parties involved have a mutual interest in defeating these guys and achieving a strong and stable Iraqi state.

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  7. AW 4 years ago

    I totally agree with Wisam! It is about the time for the USA and Europa should make some cincessions. Clearly, a borad alliance, including the brutal, but at least secular regimes of Al Assad and Rohani. Air-strikes are a good idea, especially if drones can be used so that as little Western soldiers as possible would be endangered and as much public support for the action as possible can be provided for. I imagine, it would be very difficult, considering how anti-international involvement the Western societies have grown in the past couple of years.
    Btw, I strongly believe, that China could be interested in participation if asked for - with its turbulent region if Xinjiang it certainly is not interested in further destabilization of the Middle East and Centrla Aisa. This could lay a foundation for a tighter cooperation between the West and China in the area of security - smth which both parts in fact want.

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  8. Wisam Salih 4 years ago

    @AW: thank you for mentioning China! We often forget that China has SIGNIFICANT economic interests in MENA and therefore may be interested in some kind of contribution. Although I'm no China expert, I know a few folks at the CGP who may have better insight ;)

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  9. klaus segbers 4 years ago

    There are many things we don't know about.
    > we hardly know a thing about the inner conditions of ISIS. is this a bunch of lunatics where talking doesn't make sense? or are there reasonable actors?
    > we also are in the dark how a strengthened kurdish iraq will impact on the kurdish areas in turkey. many risks are involved here, and this is quite close to europe as well.
    > when iraq, syria, afghanistan and other political units move toward fragmentation along cultural/ religious lines, this pattern may proliferate further.
    > what comes increasingly under pressure is a secular state order in general, not only in the mena area. there may be spill-over effects on western societies and also russia with high numbers of citizens and immigrants defining themselves as muslims.
    > when among core cultural groups in iraq and neighboring countries there is no consensus to pursue and defend secular integrated states, external involvement will not be able to solve anything.
    > in the shadow of iraq, the israeli government is trying hard to achieve the collapse of the new palestinian coalition government.
    > a rapprochement between iran and the u.s. is not yet a given; but the chances are improving. on the nuclear issue, a regional role for iran, the renunciation of external regime change, resistance to isis, the stabilization of iraq, afghanistan and pakistan, the positions are relatively close to each other.
    > from an ir point of view, the whole patchwork demonstrates limitations of the traditional ir theories. realists cannot handle failing states and cultural/sectarian violence spilling over. neo-realists (mearsheimer) do definitely advocate against u.s./ western involvement. institutionalists do not find any pillars for establishing credible rules and institutions - to reduce transaction costs is not a category of value for most of the parties involved. liberal approaches do not accept black boxes, but look slightly out of place in that particular region. cultural avenues may do best, and that's better than nothing.
    > 25 years after the end of the east-west conflict we are in the biggest mess after the early 1960's. and we didn't mention russia/ ukraine, and the east and south china seas so far.
    when there ever was a peace dividend, we've wasted it.

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