During the Bush administration, when things were going badly in the war against the insurgents and Al Qaeda, then Senator Biden recommended carving Iraq into three parts—Kurds, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. The recent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have focused on dominating the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. With the Kurds already being semi-independent it is the Shia, who are supported by Iran, which may eventually be looking for a home.
ISIS and its allies have overrun much of Iraq's Sunni heartland, a vast territory stretching west and north from Baghdad to the Jordanian and Syrian borders. After a surprising and dramatic initial onslaught, the offensive seems to have slowed as the militants have tried to enter predominantly Shiite areas stretching south from Baghdad.
Presently there is developing a full scale civil war in Iraq and the religious lines are breaking down, which could augur well for the future of Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites are opposing ISIS.
There are numerous questions about the emergence of ISIS:
• How was such a colossal intelligence failure allowed to happen?
• Did any of the western aid to anti-Assad forces in Syria contribute to this debacle?
• What will be the reaction of the other Nations in the region?
The first two questions will be answered in time. The third is more interesting as there are some fascinating coalitions developing—primarily caused by ISIS’s unimaginable brutality. The brutality was most likely intended to intimidate, but it appears to have back fired.
Al-Qaeda under the black ISIS banner is near three countries: Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey, which was initially confused between Syrian nationalists and the Islamist extremists, has decided to close its borders to Islamic terrorist groups. The Turks declared that ISIS is now threatening its security and not the Assad regime. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have from the beginning distinguished the moderate national Free Syrian Army from the terrorists of ISIS. This is unique because all three also are against the Assad regime.
The Gulf countries believe that fighting against al-Qaeda will only succeed through the cooperation of the Sunni people of Syria and Iraq. They feel that such cooperation is key to ensuring the eradication of such terrorist groups. The need is to stop the Sunnis from sympathizing with this group and its ideology. However, the policies of Assad and Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki’s sectarian governments have exacerbated this chaos. They also see the intervention by Iran as troubling and are concerned that the United States will form some sort of temporary alliance with Iran. To the Gulf countries Iran remains the major threat to stability in the region and any strengthening of Iran, in the long run would, not be in their best interests.
The United States seems to be again leading from the rear with its slow response to requests for assistance from the Iraq. To date the US has committed about 500 advisors and security forces into Iraq. One could ask why was the US so slow? There are most likely three reasons:
1. The Obama administration had failed to reach agreement on a status of forces agreement with Iraq, when the military wisdom was that it should leave a residual force of up to 10,000 troops.
2. Uncertainty about the situation on the ground and what US national interest might be at stake. This administration does not understand the concept of credibility of commitment. It also does not want to justify the maintenance of a strong military, which dramatic action would require. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was advocating military support for Iraq early on, but his was a voice in the wilderness
3. The idea of reaching an accommodation with Iran and thus possibly getting it to reduce its nuclear ambitions has mesmerized some in the White House. This is the worst of all reasons and worries the Gulf countries immensely.
What is the future of ISIS and Iraq? The current Iraqi offensive aimed at dislodging the Sunni militants from the northern city of Tikrit, one of two major urban centers they seized in recent weeks, if successful could greatly help restore a degree of faith in the security forces.
It also would provide a boost to embattled Prime Minister Maliki, who is fighting for his job as many former allies drop their support and Iraqis increasingly express doubts about his ability to unify the country. Maliki, however, has shown little inclination publicly to step aside, and instead appears set on a third consecutive term as prime minister. Thus if the attack is successful it could undermine the efforts of the United States and other world powers who are pressing Maliki to reach out to the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities. This is the dilemma of the current situation.
We are thus back to the critical question should Iraq be divided up into three parts? If there was some form of assurance that the three parts could retain their independence and not be dominated by Syria, Iran or Kurdistan it might worth a try. In the mean time we should see if the concept gets traction in Washington.