The continuing advances of Sunni extremists in Iraq are sending shivers everywhere. As Syria continues to burn, the region doesn’t need another failed state. But civil war in Iraq promises to be more disastrous and of far-reaching consequences than Syria. First, this is a complete sectarian war, with the disenchanted Sunnis taking up arms against an unjust Shia government, raising the threat of both sides fighting each other on the streets, spilling blood, thus shredding the prevailing sectarian equations and peace in the country; second, the government of Nouri Al Maliki is no dictator like Bashar Al Assad, but a democratically elected government, however flawed his claims to represent the whole country might be, and third, the rebels who are fighting in Iraq, known as ISIS, are said to be more hardcore and deadlier than even Al Qaeda, whereas in Syria the anti-Assad rebellion was spearheaded by moderates though militants later had later infiltrated the battle. Any victory of rebels in Iraq will only sow chaos. The ISIS have no experience or expertise in governance and have no other agenda than ousting Maliki and setting up a Shariah-based government. It’s for these reasons that their advances have worried the West, who fear that these militants might target them in future.
Iraq is staring at a protracted battle in which there will be no clear winner in the near future. The militants captured more territory yesterday. They seized the towns of Rawa and Ana after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing on Saturday. The government said its forces had made a tactical withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the militants to open a strategic route to neighbouring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.
The gains made by the militants are unlikely to last. The government forces so far have adopted a policy of withdrawal. They are expected to fight back in the coming days and the Shia youth too are rallying behind the troops to protect the government. That indicates a long battle and more chaos, more of a repeat of Syria with the central government struggling to cling to power.
So far, the US policy hasn’t been encouraging. The Obama administration has called for an inclusive government in Baghdad which treats both Sunnis and Shias in equal terms. But Maliki is not likely to listen to that message, especially when Sunnis have taken up arms against him. The US lacks a credible strategy on Iraq. Maliki is responsible for the current civil war, and the US government didn’t do anything substantial to lead him on the right path.