Iraq: good intentions, but very hard to implement
Marco Calamai 25 August 2014

The system created after 1918 is now at stake

Is this a realistic objective or just yet another illusion? It is hard to predict, but pessimism is compulsory. Kurdistan’s citizens see independence as even more necessary to stop Sunni expansion in the region, which is rich in oil and therefore of strategic importance to the new “caliphate.” This is another cause of internal division further complicating the picture of the Sunni-Shiite conflict.

There is also a widespread belief that massive American military involvement would be counterproductive. Finally, if one adds the Syrian catastrophe to the Iraqi disaster, it becomes difficult to avoid the fundamental question: is it possible to bring peace to the Middle East without questioning that Peace to end all Peace (described as such by the American historian David Fromkin) that redesigned the map of the Arab world after the fall of the Ottoman Empire?

The Islamic State’s offensive has made explicit the close link between the Iraqi and Syrian situations. In both cases we are faced (and have been for some time) with the failure of two nations with no solid historical roots, kept together for decades by totalitarian regimes governed by an internal minority (Alawite in Syria, Sunni in Iraq).

This explains (among other elements) the Islamic State’s  “sudden overflow” in Iraq. Unfortunately, hoping that federal solutions (ideal on paper) guaranteeing to each sect a pre-established share of power (the Lebanese format) may be implemented, appears today to be unfortunately unrealistic  both in Syria and in Iraq.

Neither the Syrian Alawites, ‘cousins’ of the Shiites, nor the Iraqi Sunnis can, on the other hand, be under the illusion that they can continue to “rule” as if nothing had happened. This could only occur if dictatorial regimes were reinstated as the only way of holding together ethnic and cultural diversities incapable of coexisting in a democratic context.

The United States: an indispensable power

The fate of Christians and Yazidis threatened with genocide (crucifixions, beheadings, rape, massacres and forces conversions reminding one of history’s Dark Ages) continue to arouse widespread repudiation.

Obama has acted extremely promptly with air strikes against the IS, proving, with all due respect  for America’s eternal critics, that America remains an “indispensable” nation for effective intervention in situations involving a humanitarian crisis.

By making this decision, Obama has once again presented the complex issue, critically posed previously by Hillary Clinton and others, concerning possible military aid to moderate Sunnis in Syria, now trapped in Aleppo and elsewhere in the crossfire between the IS and Al Assad’s army. This is aid that many in the United States consider necessary in order to avoid the Sunni community increasingly perceiving “intervention in Iraq and non-intervention in Syria” as the result of “double standard” policies.

Good intentions, but how?

If the new government being formed in Baghdad does not manage to work a miracle and retrieve the Sunni tribes that have challenged central power, the IS will probably continue to dominate an important part of Iraqi territory. In all events, new relations – for the moment very cautious as far as the IS is concerned -between Iran and Sunni countries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular, will be crucial.

On the other hand returning peace to the Middle East does not only depend on a shared solution to the Palestinian issue, but also on overcoming the Sunni-Shiite conflict.

This would require an American strategic approach less conditioned by parameters that, as Obama recently said in a speech at the West Point Military Academy, resulted in “some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures” (an evident reference to the 2003 War in Iraq).

How? It is necessary, explained the president, to “broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and – if just, necessary, and effective – multilateral military action.” This approach expressed a new spirit, more necessary than ever to a superpower obliged to take action in an increasingly fragmented world.

Are Europeans starting to wake up?

The European Union (EU), until now absent from the stage, could play an important role in the search for a positive solution for the Middle East. The recent special summit held by EU foreign ministers (August 15th) tenaciously promoted by Italy and France, was a first step in this direction.

A number of European countries will side with the United States in providing military aid to the Kurds, the only ones in Iraq able to oppose the IS at this stage. This should not be underestimated.

Marco Calamai is a journalist and an author

Translation by Francesca Simmons

The original article in Italian ws published by AffarInternazionali