On June 10 Iraq saw the only logical outcome of the American occupation, and the numerous US attempts to impose American-style democracy upon its people. If the Kurds had previously separated from the rest of Iraq, creating a quasi-state in the form of a Kurdish autonomous region that had many attributes of an independent state, now the Sunnis are clearly ready to call it quits as well.
During the eight years of American occupation succeeded by three years of a pro-Iranian Shiite government rule that accumulated all power in the hands of one faction, the Sunnis that had been the governing elite since the days of separation from the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, were, quite unsurprisingly, violently suppressed. In December 2013, the Iraqi western province of Al Anbar, populated almost entirely by Sunnis, saw a rise of rebellion movements against the regime of Nouri al-Maliki. The rebellion, joined not by Islamists alone, but also by former Ba’athists fighters, took control of two cities – Ramadi and Fallujah. Simultaneously, the rate of terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and other major cities has sharply increased. The security forces loyal to al-Maliki which have been using aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery for the last 7 months in a attempt to suppress the rebellion, while suffering great losses, have ultimately failed in regaining control over the revolting provinces.
To make the matters worse, the situation has been affected by the state of affairs in neighboring Syria, since the armed opposition groups that are fighting against the Assad regime invaded Iraqi territory, taking control over a number of areas adjacent to the Syrian border. Those forces were composed of members of Al-Qaeda and the extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who have been handsomely funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a long period of time. The ranks of the latter terrorist organization are growing rapidly in those areas due to the fact that, in addition to the Syrians and Iraqis that form the core of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, there are numerous mercenaries from other Arab and Islamic countries, in addition to remnants of terrorists from Russia’s North Caucasus, and even the former members of the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, joined by Muslims from the European Union.
Despite the parliamentary elections held in Iraq on April 30 which were won by a number of newly formed Shiite parties, the situation in the country is reminiscent of a ball rolling downhill. Nouri al-Maliki is repulsed by the very idea of holding talks with the moderate Sunni parties and organizations. This has led to an increase in internal rethoric about the future disintegration of Iraq, which should be divided into three enclaves – Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish, which will carry on their existence separately either as independent states or in a formal unity, like a federation or confederation. They have already invented names for new ones — Shiitstan and Sunnitstan by analogy with Kurdistan.
Unfortunately, neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iran haven’t done much to help normalize of the situation in Iraq, while the country plunges deeper into chaos and civil war with each passing day. Tehran wanted to turn Iraq into a Shi’ite fiefdom while the Arabian monarchies were trying to prevent this. Intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar along with volunteers from the GCC countries had been trying to further destabilize Iraq. In addition, the financial wealth of Arab monarchies was used to support all Sunnis in Iraq, whether radical Islamist groups or secular Baathists along with the former officers of Saddam’s army. The grip of Nouri al-Maliki started to fail him in the month of May. Little did they know.
On June 10 the whole province of Nineveh in northern Iraq was captured by militants mainly from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant at record pace. The majority of the population in this province is Sunni, yet there’s a large Christian community that resides in Nineveh. Early in the morning of the same day the provincial capital – the city of Mosul – fell into the hands of militants. Mosul is the second largest city in the country with a total population of around 1 million people. It only took them four days of fighting with government troops in the suburbs of Mosul to achieve this victory. At the time of the assault the provincial governor Atheel al-Nujaifi was residing in Mosul, but at the very last moment, while the police wer holding back the attackers, he managed to escape. Militants destroyed all local military camps where Iraqi forces were stationed, despite all of these being well fortified and armed. The Islamists released more than three thousand felons from the Mosul state prison, the better part of which had been sentenced for their involvement in terrorist activities. Overnight, some five hundred thousand inhabitants fled Mosul to seek refuge in the neighboring Kurdistan.
The situation is nothing short of a full-scale Sunni uprising. The armed groups were not particularly satisfied with the capture of Mosul, so they headed south in the direction of Baghdad. By the morning of June 11 they were 240 kilometers away from the Iraqi capital, capturing a significant number of arms depots, and getting access to armored vehicles along the way. Another direction of their attack is the major city of Kirkuk in the northeastern Iraq, the largest center of oil production in the country, located some 220 kilometers away from Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant troops were seen seventy kilometers southwest of Kirkuk this morning. Panic swept through the city.
But the main target is Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, the administrative center of the province of Salah al-Din, populated exclusively by Sunni. Should the Islamist fighters break the resistance of the government troops and take it, they will be able to reach the Sunni insurgents of al-Anbar province. Then, all the rebellious Sunni provinces will become a single entity, creating the conditions for the proclamation of Sunnitstan. And the threat is very real for Baghdad as well, where Sunnis are half the population — and are unhappy with all the violence the Shiites have brought on them. Baghdad has always been a Sunni city, only during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 it was invaded by a million of Shiite refugees from the south.
The above stated facts can mean only one thing – the US has miserably failed to impose the Western-style democracy where it is completely unlivable. Should Iraq be divided and should the Sunnis create their own separate enclave, this will cast a major blow to the US policy in the Ukraine, where the South-East regions are striving to secede from the Ukrainian state. Disaster in Iraq will inevitably divert Washington’s attention from the Ukraine, considering the huge role this once powerful Arab state is playing in the region. It is the second richest country as far as oil reserves are concerned, and it’s standing at the fracture point between Shiites and Sunnis. This development could potentially threaten the security of the entire Persian Gulf, and here we’re talking about 65% of all oil reserves in the world. Little will they care about Ukraine, should the oil shipments to the West be compromised.
Alexander Orlov, political scientist, expert in Oriental Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.