13 June 2014

Even back in 2004-5, whilst working in Baghdad as a security consultant, I held little faith in the future of Iraq. From inside Iraq it was clear, the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party regime also spelt the end of Iraq. No rational person could argue that Saddam’s regime wasn’t brutal, but it was efficient at keeping the Sunni, Shia and Kurd factions together enough the populace placed nationalism above religious differences.

 Now across the Middle East there is growing momentum within groups such as ISIS who demand a nation of their own, Sunni dominated and under Shari’a Law. The borders between Syria and Iraq mean little to ISIS, who are using instability in both countries to establish new borders in the Middle East - which are yet to be determined.

 As I write this blog post, ISIS have taken Mosul and Tikrit in the north of Iraq and are only 25km from Baghdad. They have used brutal tactics and a highly efficient PR campaign to strike fear into Iraq’s police and military. Many citizen militias in Baghdad and Karbala, majority Shi’a cities, are now preparing to fight for their shops, homes and families, as ISIS forces may soon press their attack further. Shi’a citizens are taking up arms, because they don’t trust the military and police to protect them. Many Sunni civilians seem to welcome the takeover from what they perceive as an authoritarian and sectarian government - despite the long and violent history with the ISIS.

 Whilst this chaos rages in the Central parts of Iraq, in the North, the Kurdish forces have taken over a disputed oil refinery, further complicating the Iraqi Government’s ability to keep this deck of cards from falling over.  It seems likely that ISIS forces are unlikely to push into Kurdish controlled areas in the north, at least in the near-term.  Across the north of Iraq and into Syria, there has been a situation in which Kurds and Sunni’s maintain an uneasy tolerance.  If ISIS pushed into Arbil or Kirkuk, then the consequence could be significant reprisals in Northern Syria, from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

 For me, there are now only two scenarios that could play out in the coming days and weeks. One, ISIS could consolidate its recent victories in Mosul and Tikrit and try and hold off a likely counter offensive by the Iraqi military, who over the past week have proven how inept they are against a highly motivated and violent enemy in ISIS. Two, ISIS could try and maintain its momentum and hit Baghdad and Karbala, free thousands of prisoners and take over strategic targets. This would bring Shi’a militias directly into the conflict, with the likely outcome of a multi-front sectarian civil war.

 Regardless of what happens over coming days and weeks, what is clear from a geo-political point of view is that the Iraqi Central Government and indeed the international community, have a massive dilemma. This relates to one question: How far are the US, Britain, Australia etc willing to go to ensure that the Iraq which they invaded in 2003 doesn’t end up as three separate fiefdoms and a hotbed for international extremists?

- Anthony Moorhouse, Founder and CEO, Dynamiq

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