In my last update to this blog on June 15, I said that the ill-fated invasion of Iraq by ex-president Bush and his cohorts in 2003 and its aftermath, was nothing but a terrible tragedy, but really astounding things has happened in the wake of the sectarian deterioration and renewed acts of extremely serious violence in Iraq and that is the people whose actions led to these natural, predictable catastrophes are becoming re-invented and have been appearing onto the major television channels and op-ad pages to offer their opinions to what needs to be done instead of offering profuse apologies and the promise of penance. But I am not going back today to that very sad history, because I want to talk about the events which followed the stunning successes of the insurgents , who with a sudden drive into Mosul, which is the second largest city in the country were able to subjugate it in a very short time and then they started moving southward and eastward ending with controlling almost all of northern Iraq, and to celebrate their success they said on June 30 that they were establishing an Islamic caliphate on the territories they control in Iraq and Syria, a proclamation which was replete with religious, cultural and historical symbolism, they also proclaimed their leader as caliph, which means "leader for Muslims everywhere" and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him and reject democracy and what they said was garbage from the west. They abandoned their early name, the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], and adopted a new name, the Islamic state. This declaration harkens back to the rise of Islam when the Prophet Muhammad's followers conquered vast territories in the middle Ages and setup a state which was governed under strict Islamic law, this became a dream which has been sought by many Jihadists but this caliphate with its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at its head, is very different from its forebears. Its announcement will be rejected by many Muslims, but it will be cast aside by many Muslims even if they believe in the concept of a caliphate, as perfidious, premature and blasphemous.
A caliphate in Arabic is succession, a caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph [successor] to the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs came after the death Muhammad in 632. A caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, which is ruled by one man under the Islamic law, “The Sharia”. In the early days of Islam, especially during the time of the first caliphates the system exhibited elements of direct democracy, “Shura”, the first four caliphs were chosen from amongst the prophet’s earliest disciples and members from his immediate family, which represented as a continuation of the religious systems he had introduced. Most of the caliphates which came later had dominion in the Middle East and North Africa. The last widely accepted caliphate was abolished in 1924 by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW1, but that one did not last long, the Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that as a head of state, a caliph should be elected Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia Islam however, believe that a caliph should be an Imam chosen by Allah from the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's direct descendents), but sometimes there was two competing caliphates at a single time ruled by two different dynasties. The first of these was the Umayyad Dynasty, which was followed by several competing claimants to the title, and finally the Ottoman Dynasty.
The spectacular upsurge of ISIS in Iraq has turned the country upside down with unimaginable speed, posing not only Iraqis but regional and international powers a challenge that has already upset parts of the regional order. With Sunni militants and rebels gradually moving in around the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, there is a dramatic race going on between slow-moving efforts to defuse the crisis politically and rapid developments on the ground. The latter could lead to a sectarian bloodbath in the capital and elsewhere, leaving Iraq in tatters. The tough position taken by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, stressing military options and insisting on standing for a third term of office is likely to slow down the political rescue effort, and risks aggravating the conflict.
ISIS seems to have succeeded where others have failed, in galvanizing the international community into action against a threat which all feels is already being, or will be, directed at them. And if It continues to consolidate its grip on large interlinked tracts of territory in both Iraq and Syria including major towns and cities, the world could face an extremist entity that would make Tora Bora look like a small scout camp. Its capabilities have been boosted to a phenomenal level by what it won from its stunning capture of Mosul on 10 June in an assault spearheaded by perhaps as few as 800 fighters.
It is abundantly clear that the subsequent headlong rampage southwards along the Tigris, and gains made in the western Anbar province would not have been possible had the Sunni ground they were treading not been fertile. Disgruntled Iraqi Sunni factions - former Iraqi army officers and men, dissident tribal groups and highly-organized Baathist activists - joined in the cavalcade, giving Isis a local depth without which they would have been rapidly overstretched, isolated, and easier to deal with. Whether or not there was any complicity by his many political adversaries in the collapse of the $40bn Iraqi army, as Prime Minister Maliki maintains, the fact is that the Isis issue is now inextricably interwoven with bitter Sunni grievances against his Shia-dominated rule, which has made many Sunnis feel both marginalized and victimized.
The upheavals have seen virtually all the main Sunni-populated parts of the country fall out of government control. So far, the Iraqi army has been unable to launch a strategic counter-offensive to drive the rebels back. The addition of three Iranian-backed Shia militias to its forces in the field has added to the perception that this is a Shia army fighting to impose Shia rule on Sunni areas.Its chances of re-conquering the lost ground appear very slight. And if it did, it would be crushing and further displacing Sunni populations in order to plant the state flag on the smoking ruins. It’s now taken for granted by most Iraqi politicians that the Sunnis have carved out their own area, and that things will never be the same again, and behind the intense political activity going on in Baghdad and elsewhere, involving the Americans and many others, there are several basic assumptions:
- There can be no purely military solution to the crisis.
- The days of centralized power in Baghdad are gone, and a loose federal formula, perhaps seeing the emergence of a Kurdistan-style Sunni entity, has to be found
- Only then can the Sunni strands which have joined the insurgency be expected to turn on the Isis extremists, as they did in Anbar in 2006-7, and as many tribal and military rebels have said they will do again.
- Nouri Maliki, who many blame for pursuing divisive sectarian policies that led to the crisis, cannot lead the reconciliation and profound restructuring process that is needed.
Mr Maliki himself, of course, disagrees. He has arranged a meeting of parliament for Tuesday July 1, hoping to press ahead with the post-election constitutional process which last time took more than nine months to produce a government. But unless something changes radically, there will be no quorum. In fact, chaos in Baghdad continued to grow Tuesday as minority Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the first session of the newly seated parliament, dashing hopes for the quick formation of a new government that could hold the country together in the face of a militant blitz.
And the most tragic thing in this appalling calamity is what is happening to the poor Iraqis who have been for many years and now on the receiving end of the George Bush’s failed adventure in Iraq I and its terrible aftermath, only during the last month alone, more than a million innocent men and women and children were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge inside the country or somewhere abroad as the rebels overran Mosul and other cities and towns in the north. At least 2461 Iraqis were killed in June alone, which is almost certainly an under-estimate, it is from the UN, but this august body has never been very reliable.
Friday, June 10, 2014