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What is to be done in Iraq?

201471662448507734_20-1-300x198As ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), following on from overrunning a third of Syria and Iraq, is now trying to encircle Baghdad which could make the survival in its present borders untenable, there are very few options left. Western airpower alone cannot halt ISIS except temporarily, and neither the US nor any of its European counterparts including the UK are going to risk Western boots on the ground on sufficient scale to halt and reverse the ISIS advance. Supplying Western arms to the utterly demoralised Iraqi army, which is by far the most likely option chosen by the West, carries a greater risk of advanced Western munitions falling into ISIS hands  than stalling the ISIS conquest.

The only force now that can break the demonic sectarian spiral that has been unleashed across the Middle East are the regional powers of Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, sworn enemies but conceivably brought together by their mutual fear of unlicensed barbarity lapping dangerously close to their borders. If that breakthrough is not secured, and only utter desperation will pave the way for it, ISIS will carve out both the new borders and institutions for Iraq in a manner that could end up genocidal for the Shias. How then might this unholy alliance be achieved?

If this debacle is not to be settled on the battlefield, which it still may very well be, there is only one way of resolving disasters of this nature, and that is by urgently calling together an international conference of all the main parties involved – Saudi, Iran, the US, the EU, Russia, and the leaders of ISIS. The leaders of ISIS may well take the view that that they are having such continuing success on the ground that they need no truck with negotiating with others, though it should certainly be made clear to them that this is not about seeking to maintain the now untenable 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement and that there are no prior conditions for the conference. If ISIS refuses to participate, that should certainly not abort the conference, but rather give urgency to the key regional powers in trying to reach some accommodation as to how together they can halt the ISIS advance sufficiently to bring ISIS to the negotiating table to redraw the Middle East.

Even that, which is difficult enough as it is, is only the beginning. A long-term settlement has to establish strong confederal institutions which can guarantee equal citizenship and secure diversity and which can command assent by devolving power and defending minority rights. We are at the start of a huge process of change, but it will only happen if all the parties concerned are prepared to make concessions which up to now would have seemed impossible, including acceptance of an Islamic state provided it is not enforced by the sword and the gun and rests on consent. But impossible things can happen in the face of impending cataclysmic disaster.


  1. Mike says:

    Singularly missing from Michael’s international conference is any representative of the Iraqi people themselves. The spread of ISIS should not be seen merely as blowback from a disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq by western powers eleven years ago: it’s also a fallback opportunity for those powers in some ways. It’s interesting that the Maliki government that has now been removed was unable to guarantee immunity for US troops nor a legally binding oil extraction agreement. Now this regime has been elbowed aside, with the US having suddenly discovered after several years that it was irredeemably sectarian, these issues are right back on the table. Interesting too that the US is willing to work with Kurdish forces who are offering very generous terms for the oil. And let’s not forget the plan articulated by Joe Biden when he was a mere Senator – and always in the background if a unitary Iraq couldn’t deliver what the US wanted – for the three-way Balkanisation of Iraq into discreet Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones – something that might precipitate a level of violence comparable to that accompanying the 1945 partition of India. But would that really matter to the US as long as its long-term economic and geopolitical interests in the region were secured? I have absolutely no belief that Saudi, Russia or the US can play anything but a negative role in the resolution of Iraq’s problems, and my opinion is amply vindicated by the historical record.
    Mike Phipps

  2. David Ellis says:

    Asking the semi-colonial, wannabe regional power, tin pot tyrannies of Iran and Saudi Arabia to solve the problems of Iraq is like asking the Zionists to help the Palestinians.

    The momentous, courageous, awesome Arab Spring threatened to bring democracy to the Middle East and even Iran but of course Western imperialism and its erstwhile Russian partners were not having that. They backed the tyrants in Syria and Egypt and the sectarians elsewhere ensuring that the Arab Spring was drowned in blood with over 200,000 Syrians killed without a word being said and of course the Western left, rancid, corrupted, degenerate with the Stalinist hangover backed these forces too. The so-called left should have backed the Arab Spring unconditionally but demonstrating its utter cynicism once again it used `anti-imperialism’ as an excuse to back its enemies and at the same time re-categorise Congress and Parliament as the vanguard of the anti-imperialist movement as opposed to the black heart of finance capital. The Stalinist left have betrayed the Arab world since Stalin himself took over the Soviet Union. The Arab Spring offered the chance of redemption. This was spurned by the neo-Stalinist sects who are heirs to the once powerful Stalinist organisations setting back the cause of socialism in the Middle East for even more years.

  3. swatantra says:

    Walk away. We’ve done enough damage already.
    The iraqis will get over it, in their own way.

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