Iraqi forces in Mosul are rapidly gaining territory from ISIS after months of stalemate starting in 2016.
In the last three months, ISIS positions have been rapidly deteriorating in northern Iraq, although this has been accomplished at a very high cost in respect of the civilian death toll as well as the rapid destruction of both historic sites and modern infrastructure.
Compounding this is the fact that Iraqi troops, most of whom are Shi’a, have been accused of torturing the local Sunni populations of northern Iraq. The US likewise stands accused of complicity in this extra-legal torture.
Now though, Iraq has captured the Grand al-Nuri Mosque which ISIS destroyed last week. The symbolism is clear. It was in the Grand al-Nuri Mosque that ISIS declared itself as a Caliphal sovereign over the wider Islamic world.
In destroying the mosque, ISIS were engaging in a scorched earth policy so as not to allow Iraqi forces to claim a meaningful prize.
Nevertheless, Iraqi Brigadier General Yahya Rasool has stated that in taking the site of the former mosque, the so-called Islamic State has fallen.
These words were echoed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who stated,
“The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood”.
Iraq state TV declares "fall of mythical state" (a play on IS's "state of the caliphate"). pic.twitter.com/lVGNj489TT
— W.G. Dunlop (@wgdunlop) June 29, 2017
While it is obvious that Iraqis should want to celebrate the symbolic victory, ISIS is far from defeated in Iraq. What’s more is that Iraq was the tumultuous cradle of ISIS and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
In this sense, Syria can actually defeat ISIS whose ideology is completely foreign to the modern Syrian experience. Iraq by contrast will have a much more difficult time.
America and Britain’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was a disaster from which Iraq has not recovered. After the imperialist invaders illegally deposed the legitimate government of Iraq, the occupiers then conspired to totally disenfranchise anyone seen as tied to the government, even when in actual fact such people were often not connected to the government.
This quickly spilled into a divide and conquer technique wherein the imperialists sought to turn Shi’a against Sunni in a country that had always had some lingering tensions, although the Ba’ath Party did wonders in minimising these tensions, as Ba’athism is an explicitly anti-sectarian ideology both in theory and practice.
The inane so-called ‘de-Ba’athification’ process that the occupiers executed was little more than a social genocide of Iraqi Sunnis. At the same time, Shi’a Iraqis were equally enraged at the illegal conquering of their nation, although for different reasons. At the same time, Christian Iraqis were subject to a total genocide. Those who survived fled, often to Ba’athist Syria where they were welcomed without hesitation by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Even in the years of Saddam Hussein’s often fraught Presidency, the government and civil service of Iraq saw Sunnis, Shia’s and Christians of all major denominations in positions of distinction and importance.
Sunni Iraqis were consequently driven to any ideology, any movement and ultimately any group that could give them some sort of agency in the new post-Sunni Iraq. Many such people were for the first time in their previously secular existence, driven to the ideology of al-Qaeda. As foreign al-Qaeda fighters flooded into a country that had under the Ba’ath party been among the most anti-al-Qaeda places on earth, many local Sunnis joined their ranks for the sad reason that their ranks were among the only that would have them.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was born. Eventually al-Qaeda in Iraq would become the Islamic State of Iraq. Shortly thereafter they broadened their horizons and sought to expand becoming the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant. This in turn formally became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and finally today it calls itself The Islamic State, though it is sill generally known in English speaking countries by the acronym ISIS.
The fact that Sunni Iraqis are still being tortured, still being associated with terrorists even when they are not associated with terrorism, still being treated with suspicion, means that the divide and conquer attitude which the imperialist powers instilled on a once united Iraqi nation, are still omnipresent in today’s Iraq.
So long as the conditions which allowed ISIS to foment are present in Iraq, so long will the threat of ISIS, irrespective of what it might call itself in the future, continue to haunt Iraq.
The reason that the Syrian situation is vastly more hopeful is that the situation in Syria was very different. In Syria, the Ba’ath Party has remained in power and continues to unite the vast majority of the nation against sectarianism of all kinds. In Syria, the majority of ISIS fighters and other Salafist terrorists are foreign fighters. In Iraq this is also largely thought to be the case, but the difference is that in Iraq ISIS seized an opportunity which many locals, at least for a time, thought was the only way to escape oppression from both militarised Shi’a forces as well as from the omnipresent and barbaric forces of western imperialism.
In Iraq, Sunni citizens had many enemies, they were surrounded on all fronts. ISIS flamed these tensions to their own perverse advantage. By contrast, in Syria, the Syrian identity of all citizens was never taken away and as a result, Salafism was never given the chance to foment organically as it partly did in Iraq.
In Iraq, ISIS took advantage of broken hearts and broken dreams–broken bones and broken lives. In Syria, they merely took advantage of a pours border.
The situation in Iraq is not promising. It is not just Iraqi Kurds who will almost certainly separate from the rest of the country in a formal sense in September of this year, but the Sunni/Shi’a divide in the country is still very real as it has been since the time of the 2003 invasion. This does not bode well for Iraqi unity. By contrast, real Syrians have never been and are not now divided on such lines.
Iraqi Sunnis are once again left with nothing, Iraqi Shi’as now see Iran as their only salvation as their only real chance to throw off the poisonous influence of the imperialist west.
Iraq is hardly a nation any more and it hasn’t been since 2003. I doubt it ever will be again. While Iran remains a stabilising factor in the region and Syria now looks set to weather the storm, Iraq has started to win the war against ISIS in the short term. However, Iraq has lost the war to ISIS in the longer term, a war which is part of the same conflict started by America and Britain.