2014 Symposium: What is the future of Iraq? Are we going to allow Iraq to be controlled by ISIL? Will Iraq break into three countries? Will there be a civil war in Iraq?

Asheville: There is already civil war in Iraq. It is disingenuous to call these events “unexpected.” Anyone who studies the history of the Middle East with any seriousness could see that the Baathist Hussein government was the only thing preventing all-out warfare. War between Sunni and Shia was the inevitable result of a decades-long, brutally enforced, cease fire ending abruptly.

The best case scenario for Iraq would be a divided state solution. The largest province in the north would be a Kurdish-controlled state. The Kurds have, for many years, been at the bottom of the pile in the region. An independent Kurdistan would help to calm sectarian violence in Turkey, which could become a long-term partner in peace with the other states. The eastern part of Iraq would be Shia controlled. While an independent state is possible, a protectorate relationship with Iran seems more likely. A Shia controlled eastern Iraq would create a buffer zone between antagonists in Iran and Iraq. A western Iraqi province controlled by Sunni authorities would be the least stable, given the lack of a stable partner state, but the continued support of the U.S. government would bolster the state against aggressors, while constraining expansionist impulses.

By far the greatest threat to regional stability is ISIS. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the organization’s leader, is committed to the resurrection of the Caliphate-an Islamic state that governs from the Arabian Peninsula in accordance with a restrictive reading of Islam. The biggest struggle in combatting the group is that they possess the resources and infrastructure to feed, clothe, and employ a population decimated by decades of war. Most Iraqis and Syrians could care less about the Caliphate, but ISIS is running schools and providing social services in regions that dysfunctional governments have all but abandoned. This is the greatest power of ISIS and the best place to fight them.

Prescott Valley: The future of Iraq is currently questionable, as the country and its capital, Baghdad, are under the direct threat of the Islamic State. (ISIS/ISIL).

With the election of a new president, Flaud Masum in July of 2014, and his appointment of Al-Abadi as prime minister in August of 2014, a shift occurred. The previous Prime Minister, Al-Maliki, was asked to step aside, as his Shia related loyalties had taken precedence over the needs of the country and its varied population. A battle ensued for the position over the constitutionality of the nomination and appointment of Al-Abadi by President Masum. Al-Maliki eventually left the position after pressure from leaders around the world and others in his own party. With the appointment of Al-Abadi, a new government was established, and the Iraqi parliament approved the new presidential program and the new government under Al-Abadi in September of 2014.

The Iraqi government has been in disarray with the struggles that have occurred with leadership questions from the days of the Ba’ath Party to the rule of Saddam Hussein, to the Transitional period and beyond. The infighting and demands of the parties that make up the parliament, which is composed of the Council of Representatives and the Council of Union, coupled with the Sunni and Shiite differing tribal philosophies, have created turmoil in the day-to-day governing of Iraq. Now, with the rise of ISIS, the government continues to struggle with the threat of complete takeover by the Islamic State. With the vacuum left by the departure of the American military in 2011, and the disintegration of the Iraqi military, the Islamic State was able to gain a foothold in the region and threaten the fragile stability and the few remnants of peace that Iraq had gained.

In an effort to thwart control of Iraq by ISIS, the United States (with help from Britain) has stepped in to stave off the advance of the Islamic State. Current American policy has allowed for air strikes against ISIS, and a limited number of advisers have been operating and monitoring Baghdad and Irbil in northern Iraq. The latest developments indicate that the Pentagon may deploy more advisers to Anbar province to assist Iraqi forces that are being besieged by ISIS. This proposal would station advisers to deter violent operations by ISIS that have included annihilation and control of the Sunni Abu Nimer tribe. As far as whether the United States will allow ISIS to control Iraq, the cessation or stoppage of such control has been limited to the training and assisting programs that are currently in operation, which can be interpreted to mean that any operations will be prolonged with day-to-day inconsistencies with limited results. Other tentative operations through America include pending legislation led by California Representative Ed Royce that would directly arm the Iraq Iraq/Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces with weapons and military equipment to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. These ground forces have led some of the most successful encounters against ISIS and may be the key to fending off the Islamic State in a more permanent fashion and stopping the advances of ISIS throughout Iraq. The Peshmerga is a vital partner to the United Sates in the fight against the Islamic State and if given the right weaponry can effectively fight and annihilate this brutal enemy.

Whether or not Iraq will break off into three countries remains to be seen. With the unnamed or de facto partitioning occurring in Syria where rebel groups have taken hold of areas not under the control of President Assad, the same type of partitioning could occur in Iraq.

The Islamic State’s insertion of itself into an already destabilized and strife-torn area, along with the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiite run government, has created the perfect scenario for the Islamic State to mount a broad mission of possession of the whole of Iraq. Any partitioning of Iraq would be stymied by the actions of ISIS and their mission to occupy and rule in totality. Though the Islamic State’s ability to hold areas such as Mosul and Tikrit and the Anbar province cannot be taken lightly, a march into and occupation of Baghdad and the center of governmental control would not be as easy to attain. The same holds true with the northern area of Iraq where the Kurds technically rule and govern. They have control over the region, as well as control over the oil supplies in the area of Kirkuk. With those positive factors in mind, that region of Iraq would most likely remain independent, and any negotiations for status as a separate country would be easier to establish. With the resurgence of the Islamic State and the distractions it has caused, any transformation of Iraq into three separate countries would most probably be delayed.

Civil wars have loomed in Iraq innumerable times and the unrest that has occurred between the Sunnis and Shiites is centuries old, as their original conflict centered on the disagreement over the successor to Muhammad. Though both groups believe in Islamic law, they interpret and enforce it in different ways. With Sunnis in the minority and Shiites ruling, the disagreements and conflicts have escalated. The rise of ISIS has brought civil unrest to a new and horrific level. With the Sunni connection to the Islamic State, once again the two groups face hostilities. The difference is that the defenders and militants involved in ISIS are not necessarily faithful to Sunnis. Their leaders are Iraqi but many of the fighters are either former Sadam Hussein loyalists or foreigners that don’t have the trust of the local populations. A three-way clash exists as well as extraneous disputes outside of Iraq with Middle Eastern countries that are either Sunni or Shiite connected. Until the age-old differences and tribal feuds are resolved, little can be done to stop civil unrest, and the involvement of countries beyond Iraqi borders could initiate transnational conflicts.

Cartwright: I want to start by mentioning something that has been mentioned at this symposium in the past. Keeping the peace is always harder than winning the war. The situation in Iraq is a classic example. It’s been a long and hard effort to keep the peace there after we deposed Saddam Hussein, and I think it’s going to become increasingly difficult to keep the peace particularly as we scale back our presence there.

I think Iraq runs a real risk of descending into chaos. You have a country that has many factions, and a lot of those factions don’t get along. Let’s not underestimate the power and the potential threat of ISIL. These are ruthless terrorists, and they’re getting better organized. More importantly, they’re well-funded. This has all been playing out in Syria for the most part of the last year and a half; we know what ISIS is capable of. During this time, there has been a growing influence of ISIL in Iraq. Obama even sent special ops to help deal with this threat, but it appears that ISIL is in control of a large portion of Iraq. ISIL appears to be gaining ground, and it appears we ceded the area they have under control to them. This isn’t good, and we haven’t done much about it. Mr. Obama doesn’t have the courage to re-engage in Iraq. He’d rather let the terrorists take over than have to fight them. ISIL wants Iraq to be a caliphate, and that may well happen if Mr. Obama just sits on his hands.

But as long as we have some sort of presence in Iraq, I think the situation remains manageable. We still have the best trained and most sophisticated military in the world. The scary part is that we trained the Iraqi security force. What happens when the rank and file from the Iraqi security forces align themselves with ISIL? These will be people that we trained, using knowledge we taught them against us. That’s when the situation could deteriorate rapidly. Or, if they give up the fight in Syria and concentrate efforts in Iraq, the situation would change dramatically.

Isn’t it interesting that no one in the media is talking about this? It’s almost as if it’s taboo to even mention Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course, if they talk about it, they have to mention that we still have a lot of troops in both countries. More importantly, if the media talks about this, they might have to mention that the decision to withdraw from both countries has truly destabilized both countries—just as Mr. Obama was warned would happen. Then again, if the media doesn’t mention anything about Iraq or Afghanistan, they help perpetuate the false image of Mr. Obama being a peace-time president. We’re still engaged in a global war on terror whether Mr. Obama or the liberals want to admit it.

Ultimately, I think Iraq is going to end up being run by a dictator again. We put Saddam Hussein in power. We’re going to put someone like him in power, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the country is going to once again be ruled by a tyrant with access to tremendous oil wealth. We’ll get run out of the country like we were run out of Iran, and all our efforts will have been for naught.

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