The fate of Iraq as a united country is at stake, and it is most likely veering rapidly towards actual partition based on sectarian affiliation. This would destroy all historic and geographic bonds exactly along the lines of maps that emerged at the start of the US-British invasion of Iraq, demarking three countries in Iraq each belonging to a different sect, five states in the Arabian Peninsula and two countries in Syria.
The Americans failed to execute these maps a decade ago for various reasons – most notably because Iraq itself was never sectarian, unlike today. This incredible transformation is thanks to two-term Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki who is now struggling to form an acceptable third cabinet since the April elections in which he declared a marginal – and disputed – victory.
Throughout his tenure, Maliki has been the poster child for sectarianism. He handed over one third of the southern Iraqi territories to Iran, and the central government that is allegedly led by him – according to the Iraqi constitution – no longer has control over the Kurdistan province in the north.
Today, he is unable to perform a minimum degree of leadership in the capital Baghdad and surrounding areas. Under his unfortunate tenure, there is no longer an Iraqi army in the national sense, and is nothing more than armed units with varying degrees of efficiency and loyalty that lack basic military discipline.
The central government no longer has any power over governorates and provinces, and there is no longer any moral influence of other institutions, such as the fumbling parliament that is manipulated by sectarian allegiances above all else.
Maliki’s responsibility for Iraq’s disintegration, partition and political collapse is undisputable, but it is also the responsibility of other Iraqi political elite who embarked on personal and sectarian quarrels and ignored the fate of Iraq. They do not give priority to protecting the country against the deterioration, disappointment and serious failure that has occurred there.
Despite real injustices against Sunnis in Iraq at the hands of Maliki and his Iran-backed cabinet, it would be a grave mistake to view actions by ISIL as salvation from Maliki’s injustice. It is also a grave mistake for some Shiite leaders in Iraq to form military units or armed militias to fight ISIL combatants as representatives of the Sunni sect. Such actions are the golden gateway to a grueling civil war that will be similar to what is taking place in Syria.
After four years of death and destruction in Syria, there are still no winners and only losers in all aspects. Conventional wisdom suggests Iraqis should not drive themselves to the dark fate of Syria.
A single Iraq has already disintegrated and ISIL actions indicate the tragic end that the Iraqi people primarily, and Arabs secondly, will pay. If this bloodthirsty group is able to control the areas they conquered – to use their propaganda term – for several months, and find some popular support – even if reluctant, it would be difficult to eliminate this group in a reasonable amount of time.
If there are confrontations with Iraqi forces or armed Shiite militias, there will be a lot of bloodshed and extensive destruction of infrastructure. As for the ordeal of Iraqi civilians, it will be no less than what Syrians are suffering at home and abroad.
If this brutal group of foreign and Arab combatants, alongside Iraqi fighters, is unable to maintain long control of the areas they took last week and fail to declare an Islamic emirate that practices Medieval politics, it is likely these merciless and inhumane fighters would return to their countries of origin to continue their ventures and attempts to take control of another Arab country. Or pester another Arab regime to drain it financially and morally.
In either case, Arabs will pay a price. The danger ISIL presents is gradually becoming apparent. Threats of invading Kuwait, conquering it and annexing it to the caliphate project led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi are now public.
The same is true for Egypt, which ISIL has threatened that conquering Jerusalem would come to pass by overthrowing the incumbent regime in Egypt, assassinating political leaders and defeating the Egyptian army. Thus, saving Iraq requires immediate and potent Arab action.
A failed state in Iraq, and before that in Syria, draws up a new political map in the region that will impact non-Arab regional powers, most notably Iran followed by Turkey who are both responsible for the situations in Iraq and Syria. They may think they are immune to the repercussions of failed states in Iraq and Syria, but they are entirely wrong and will pay the price sooner or later.
One can glean dramatic changes on the horizon for the Kurdish case in the region. Until today, the experiment of an Iraqi Kurdistan province appears to be the most stable and economically successful, which encourages nationalist sentiments beyond the Iraqi border.
If the central authority collapses in Baghdad, it would only be natural for Kurds to declare independence in order to uphold the integrity and safety of their province. This, in turn, would cause Kurds in Turkey and Iran to make similar demands or join a united Kurdish state, which would open the door to revamping the entire regional map.
Everyone is facing a difficult moment that cannot endure more tampering or oblivion to the dark fate of Iraq and the entire region.