Iraq, once the cradle of civilization,continues to experience one of the most horrific violent conflicts in modern history. It is hard to imagine the mammoth death and destruction that has been inflicted on the Iraqi people by foreign powers and domestic terrorism. Yet, the country can still overcome the horrors of the past 14 years, provided that its leaders correctly reassess the changing regional and domestic dynamics and agree to allow all Iraqis -- regardless of their sect and cultural orientation -- to choose their own political and civil structure.
Since the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies in 2003, up to 500,000 civilians have been killed. since 2006, there have been 40,000 recorded terrorist attacks, averaging more than 7,100 deaths per year. Nearly 225,000 people have left as refugees, and 3.1 million are internally displaced. The destruction of infrastructure and socioeconomic dislocation also created widespread hunger and disease, especially among children. All this human and material devastation culminated with the rise of ISIS, which has ravaged the country. Meanwhile, the internal indiscriminate terrorism between Sunnis and Shiites continues unabated.
The current Abadi government (run by Shiites) ignores the fact that the Iraqi Kurds are on the verge of establishing their own independent state following the upcoming mid-September referendum, and that the Sunnis will reject the status quo, and never again subjugate themselves to the whims of a Shiite government in Baghdad.
Having suffered intense discrimination, oppression and wanton violence perpetrated against them -- especially during the eight years of the Maliki government -- the Sunni community has long since concluded that their future well-being depends on their ability to govern themselves. They are determined to follow the footsteps of their Kurdish counterparts by establishing autonomous rule as a prerequisite to ending Sunni-Shiite bloodshed.
The carnage between the two sides continues to rage, claiming the lives of hundreds each week, and is unlikely to abate as long as: a) the Iraqi government and outside powers, including the US, are still absorbed by the illusion of maintaining Iraq's geographical unity; and b) Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are waging a proxy war in Iraq to secure their geostrategic interests in the region.
In many ways, the rise of ISIS and its control over much of the Sunnis' three provinces further deepens the Sunnis' resolve to fight for their independence. In addition to the egregious mistreatment they have suffered under the Maliki government, the Sunnis endured the brunt of ISIS' brutality and bloodshed.
Iraqi children have been affected the most. They were recruited to commit the most heinous crimes by ISIS, and hundreds of thousands have been traumatized as they were forced to watch beheadings and the gruesome treatment of innocent bystanders 'suspected' of committing petty crimes.
The liberation of Mosul offers a new beginning to build a promising future for Iraq. In that regard, I maintain that Iraq's strength rests on the three main sects becoming politically independent from one another. The central government must support the establishment of an independent Sunni entity and an independent Kurdish entity, and amend the constitution to reflect the new political and territorial divisions.
Internally, the Iraqi government must address the endemic corruption that consumes nearly one third of the country's revenue, establish a fair and impartial judiciary, engage in economic development and refrain from infringing on the Kurds' and Sunnis' internal or external affairs.
Given that the Sunnis' three provinces have no oil, their economic development depends on securing their share of revenue by passing the long-anticipated law that would divide up oil wealth. In addition to that, the new Sunni entity would need the financial support from the Gulf states, the US and the EU to become a viable entity.
The central Shiite-led government in Baghdad must not hold the Sunnis hostage by denying them their legitimate share of the country's oil wealth. This would be a recipe for continued bloodshed and destruction.
The benefits of this roadmap are enormous; it would bring stability of Iraq, and help bring an end to the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This arrangement would also mitigate the Iranian threat, which the Gulf states and Israel view as the source of regional tension and violent conflict. Moreover, it would significantly reduce militant activities, enhance regional security and start a process of peace and reconciliation in Iraq.
It is only when the Sunnis establish their own entity and build the infrastructure of an independent state will they feel empowered and confident to work closely with the Kurds and the Shiites as equals, which will pave the way for a functioning confederation between them at a later date.
The role of the US at this early stage is critically important. The US must support the establishment of an independent Sunni entity, maintain residual forces throughout the transitional period, train and equip security personnel, rein in extremist groups and guide the Sunnis in the development of a political structure consistent with their beliefs, culture and aspirations.
The death and destruction from which the Iraqis have suffered during the past 14 years must come to an end. Children have been affected the most; they have suffered from malnutrition, disease and dislocation, with enduring psychological scars that will last a lifetime. Tens of thousands have been killed, and as many became orphaned.
It is time to end the Iraqi tragedy. Much of the power to ensure a more promising future lies in the hands of the Iraqi people themselves. It is they who must rise above sectarianism, and chart their own destiny.