Iraq, plunging into the abyss?
Iraqi rapid response members fire a missile against Islamic State militants during a battle with the militants in Mosul, Iraq, March 11, 2017
After three international military interventions led by the United States in 1991, 2003 and 2014 for different purposes, Iraq is left in shambles. While simplistic analysis is pointing to these three events as the reason for today’s situation, the explanation is so much more complicated. What remains sure nonetheless is that the worst Return of Investment for the US has been the uber-spending of $100+Billion in training and arming the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi Army. Unfortunately, Iraq 2018 mirrors Iraq 2004 in terms of violence and political upheaval.
Looking at the dramatic rise of Islamic State from the ashes of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one can see that the US is not the only responsible party, but the main factor is the sectarian divide exacerbated by successive Shia-led Iraqi governments. The international community as a whole, not only allowed Iran to take over little by little its neighbour but also left a free rein to governments that were shunning and mistreating in any way possible the Sunni population. The result of this humiliation is why in 2014, 800 IS jihadists "defeated" 25,000 soldiers of the well-trained and well-equipped Iraqi Army in Mosul. The Sunni members of the army that never bunked with their Shia colleagues decided that their brethren from the Islamic State were going to avenge their honour. Therefore, they decided to desert: in other words, a bad Sunni was always going to be better than any Shia…
Since then, Iran’s proxies in Iraq have yet again sowed, through their targeted attacks against Sunnis, the path to another sectarian civil war in the country. Not only by killing but also by making Sunnis refugees, they are pushing them into the arms of the extremists, making it a godsend for either Islamic State's new incarnation or a resurgent al-Qaeda. Indeed, a vibrant Sunni jihadist group will continue to thrive since all the political elements that allowed IS to flourish are still very much there. Nonetheless as always in the Middle East tribal system, things are extremely more complicated than they look. A point in case, internecine fighting is alive and kicking. For instance, in Anbar province, vendetta is the rule: Sunni inhabitants are going after the families of Islamic State jihadists to exert vengeance. In order to avoid this violence, authorities won't allow the return of Islamic State families. Furthermore, and against nature, Iran is utilizing captured Islamic State fighters in Iraq to widen sectarian divisions and target US interests.
When will the West learn that living together isn't an option anymore in Iraq? Unsurprisingly, Iraq has returned to the extremely bloody 2004-2006 period with an ever-greater destabilising role for Iran now. And if that weren’t enough bad news, the economic picture looks bleaker because worsening clashes among tribes and a political void are threatening security at oil installations in the only relatively quiet Basra region. Soaring unemployment is fuelling protests in southern Iraq, shooting up to at least 30% in Basra. Two pregnant issues explain the current situation: one is that the regional government is not re-distributing any of the large wealth stemming from oil to the local population and the second is that unregulated militias totally uncontrolled by the local government are feeding off the ambient chaos. Adding to that, foreign energy companies are almost exclusively employing expats rather than local workforce. There are more and more expats coming in Basra and we expect they could be targeted by terrorists in the next few months. Already the seemingly violent-free Basra has sustained year-to date 19 attacks against foreign civilians resulting in 11 deaths, all in the Oil and Gas sector and four attacks against private security contractors resulting in one death. Local deaths have already reached more than 70 and the Port of Basra has been attacked three times this year with many injured and large damage to machinery and to containers.
Last but not least, a full-blown war involving foreign nations and their proxies could be ignited soon. Powerful Shia militias have threatened to attack US and coalition forces but also an Iran-Saudi Arabia new front could be opened. Indeed, in a possible game-changer in Iraq, Iran risks losing the influence game since Saudi Arabia is to sell Iraq power at a 1/4 of Iran's price. The deal includes building a 3,000-megawatt plant in Saudi Arabia.
While Iraq has a lot of potential to rebuild yet again, risks are numerous: between the resurgence of Islamic State, the rise of al-Qaeda, the powerful militias, the sectarian strife, the proxy wars, it will probably get much worse before it gets any better…
Olivier Guitta is the Managing Director of GlobalStrat, a security and geopolitical risk consulting firm for corporations and governments. A Government Intelligence Officer contributed to this article. Olivier tweets @OlivierGuitta
06/09/2018 - Toute reproduction interdite