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Mainstream, VOL LII No 27, June 28, 2014

“A Blow to Progressive Forces Everywhere”

Qamar Agha on the Prevailing Situation in Iraq

Saturday 28 June 2014

The following is an interview with Qamar Agha, a specialist on West Asian affairs, who spoke to the

Mainstream editor.

Ques: What is the genesis of the latest crisis in Iraq?

I must tell you that the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), whose thrust into Iraq from Syria has caused the latest crisis, is a powerful organisation. It was part of the Al-Qaeda but the ISIS activists refused to accept Al-Zawahiri as their leader and that led to the split. It has good ties with Saudi Arabia and Qatar that developed in the course of the Syrian crisis, and this also marks them out as being different from the Al-Qaeda.

The ISIS is opposed Shia rule in Iraq. They want to establish a Caliphate that will comprise of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. They intend to introduce Shariah laws and set up a pure Sunni state.

Their objective is to capture land, create anarchy and not allow the countries (Syria, Iraq) to live in peace and stability. One of their principal aims is to destabilise the situation in those countries on the lines of what happened and could again happen in Afghanistan.

While they are backed and financed by the Saudis, they are plush with Iraqi, Syrian and Libyan arms. They are into gun-running and drug-trafficking (in Afghanistan).

New the ISIS is the most powerful and richest organisation in the region. It has looted $ 450 million worth of banknotes from Mosul and amassed lots of weapons from various military bases in Ramdi and Falluja.

Sunis are backing the ISIS. Saddam Hussain loyalists and tribal chiefs have also joined them. But it is here that there lie the seeds of disharmony and disunity in the long term.

However, at present Iraq is virtually partitioned into three distinct divisions: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the central part and Shias in the south.

Ques: Who would you hold responsible for the present situation in Iraq—the Americans or Al-Maliki?

I think it is the American occupation which is at the root of the latest crisis.

I know Al-Maliki is blamed for the present situation by pro-Western analysts. But I tell you, right from the beginning of the US occupation of Iraq the Sunnis were not prepared to accept Shia leadership. They were not prepared to accept democracy which the US was keen to implant in Iraq, nor were they ready to reconcile to the loss of Sunni leadership. After all, the Sunnis were the dominant force in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime.

As for Al-Maliki, he desired Sunni support. Several officials were given top posted by him. His Vice-President initially was a Sunni.

The Governor of Mosul was a Sunni. He fully collaborated with the ISIS there.

Saudis have been working towards aggravating the Shia-Sunni conflict.

As for the Americans, they are not bothered about Shias killing Sunnis and vice-versa. They would rather say: “Let the two devils fight each other” and choose to do practically nothing. What matters for them is oil—the oil flow to Western Europe and America. They are interested in greater control over West Asian oil. That‘s why they are speaking of a more inclusive government in Baghdad so as the prevent any speaking of a more inclusive government in Baghdad so as to prevent any kind of destabilisation that could affect the oil supply.

Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran are all opposing Western policies. These states comprise what is called in the West as the Shia arc. The Iranians call it the ‘arc of resistance’.

The Americans feel they are in a better position today. They have cornered Russia which is bogged down in the Ukrainian crisis; the Russias have just one naval base in Syria. The Americans think both Russia and Iran would lose in the region in the long run.

Ques: What about the present situation? Can the ISIS capture Baghdad?

It is true the Iraqi Army is not a well-trained army. But still I feel it would be difficult for the ISIS to come into the Shia areas and capture or overrun them. However, they can surely destabilise these areas and the country as a whole through guerilla tactics.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear. Kurdistan has become a reality. The demographic composition of Iraq is: 62-64 per cent Shias, 17-18 per cent Sunnis, adn 17-18 per cent Kurds. The Kurds are Sunnis but it their ethnic identity which takes precedence over other considerations.

Kurdish independence is not to the liking of the Americans because of its possible impact on Turkey where there are a large nomber of Kurds. The territory of Kurdistan, they fear, may extend into Turkish areas.

Ques: Were the American caught unawares by the ISIS thrust into Iraq?

Americans have all along intended to play a greater role in Iraq after their intervention and occupation. It is difficult to believe that the Americans did not know about the ISIS strategy. They must have known everything from satellite imagery etc. but chose to look the other way.

Ques: Hypothetically, if the ISIS is able to overrun the Shia areas in the south and capture Beghdad, would that encourage the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to overrun Pakistan?

It is difficult to predict what will happen in Iraq since the ISIS is not a monolithic group. But they, like the Al-Qaeda, have been trained in Pakistan and owe allegiance to Islamabad; and so would not like to destabilise Pakistan through the Taliban which too does not have any fundamental conflict with the Pakistani military.

This ISIS surge may embolden militant organi-sations in Pakistan and this could have repercussions in Kashmir in the form of a spurt in militant activities in the Valley.

Ques: What about the fate of the Indian workers under ISIS captivity in Iraq?

Kidnapping and gun-running are old tactics. India has friends not only in the Iraqi Government but also among tribal loyalists and Saddam-backers So hopefully everything would be settled.

Ques: How would you sum up the prevailing situation in Iraq?

From the point of view of progressive forces the world over, it is doubtless a big blow at present.