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The Defeat of ISIS Won't End the Sunni Insurgency in Iraq
By Manish Rai

The Iraqi military and its allies are on the verge of defeating Islamic State in its final and largest Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in his recent visit to Mosul said the defeat of Islamic State militants in Mosul is "inevitable." Even Islamic State supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has issued a statement acknowledging his group's defeat in Iraq and calling on fighters to either flee or carry out suicide attacks.

But a very important question arises -- does crushing Islamic State in Mosul also put to an end the decade long Sunni insurgency in the country.

The answer is no.

According to a recent report a new Sunni insurgency is already taking root in Iraq as the U.S.-led coalition continues to weaken the Islamic State's territorial strongholds, particularly in Mosul. The report, by the Washington D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, warned that al Qaeda's top leadership will likely capitalize on ISIS's continued losses and attempt to gain influence within splinter militant groups opposed to the Shia-led government of Iraq. Al Qaeda has always remained active in Iraq despite being overshadowed by ISIS in recent years. Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri last August urged its Syrian branch to rebuild alliances in Iraq and resume a "long guerrilla warfare."

Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN) popularly known as Naqshbandia, a neo-Baathist insurgent group which harnessed the 2013 protest movement, is now preparing to stoke its own fully fledged insurgency. JRTN earlier infused the anti-government protest movement with revolutionary rhetoric and traditional Baathist branding. It is very evident that a permissive environment is emerging for another Sunni insurgency in the vacuum of control left by ISIS, into which other actors will surely emerge. So just by defeating one outfit the Sunni insurgency can't be put to an end. The grassroots problems which fan these kinds of insurgency have to be addressed if we want long term solutions. Sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias is not a new phenomenon in Iraq but in the last decade Sunnis have been marginalised and pushed to the edge of the country. Iraqi Sunnis are disillusioned by the monopolization of power by a few Shia elite. Sunnis fear they are at risk of becoming a dispossessed underclass in lands they once ruled and there will be a repeat of the cycle of marginalization which was practiced by all Shia dominated governments since 2004. A Sunni politician in Baghdad said Americans raised the Kurds, Iran raised the Shias, but we, Sunnis, are like abused children. "We're the orphans of Iraq."

Extrajudicial execution by militias, forced disappearances and the destruction of homes and property is what Iraqi Sunnis are currently witnessing. Amnesty International stated in a recent report that thousands remained detained without trial on suspicion of links to IS. Torture in detention remains rife. Courts sentence terrorism suspects to death, frequently after unfair trials. Executions continue at a high rate. Sunni heartlands are mostly on the frontline or in areas under IS control, while hostility from Shias, Kurds and others make it difficult for them to establish new lives elsewhere. The numbers are uncertain, but a rough estimate indicates that of Iraq's perhaps 7 million Sunni Arabs, some 2.5 million are displaced, many of them now in Iraqi Kurdistan where they have to renew permits every four months, as if living in a foreign land. Some 1.5 million have left Iraq altogether. In the name of fighting terror, Kurdish and Shia militias chased Sunnis off their lands, first in southern and northern Iraq and then in its centre. Checkpoints put Sunnis under a Shia siege, and in large parts prevent a mass Sunni return.

The outcome will be disastrous if conditions are not created to help Sunni Arabs in Iraq to address their original and mounting grievances as increased levels of sectarian tensions further help the ability of insurgents to capitalize on social conditions. An end to Iraq's sectarian warfare is a prerequisite in shifting the political focus away from questions of state legitimacy and toward those of state efficiency, corruption, and service delivery. These are key to the stability and sustainability of the Iraqi state where nationalism should prevail above sects and religious beliefs. Successful resettlement and reconstruction efforts that earn the Sunni population's trust in the Iraqi Government can prevent Salafi/Jihadi groups from finding openings to resurge. The U.S. should also help address the underlying issues that fuelled the Sunni insurgency and remain active in shaping Iraq's political reconciliation efforts and encouraging inclusive governance. The U.S. should have the expectation that it will remain involved in some capacity in Iraq in order to ensure that anti-ISIS gains stick and that it has resolved the conditions that allowed insurgent groups to arise in 2013. Every stakeholder in the country agrees that Iraq needs a civil modern democratic society, a state founded on the basis of equal citizenship for all its people. Without a durable post-ISIS strategy of national integration, soon the country will be in a greater chaos.


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