America's new war in Iraq

US seems to be already fighting its third Iraq war after the 1991 and the 2003 wars.

The third war in Iraq since 1991 has been raging on. Unless the Obama administration directly intervenes, the current political map of Iraq will be history soon. Political boundaries of states often change in the aftermath of devastating wars. Broadly, the political map of Middle Eastern states have survived for about hundred years since they were drawn in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by the victors of World War I. 

The post-Second World War changes in political boundaries in this region were affected first by the creation of Israel and subsequently by Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973. One could argue that unification of Yemen is also an example of such change, but the division of Yemen was artificial, like the creation of European-style nation-states in the Middle East after the First World War. There is, however, a critical difference. Ethnic unity and composition was ignored by the imperial powers while carving out nation-states leaving several states with diverse minorities and hence perennial social conflicts, often violent ones.

As the end of communist totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to disintegration of the USSR, dissolution of Yugoslavia and bifurcation of Czechoslovakia, rise of political Islam and spread of popular movements against authoritarian rulers in the Islamic countries of the Middle East have unleashed the forces that may result in a series of state implosion and birth of new nations. The civil war in Syria, political violence in Iraq, rampant instability in Libya provide enough signals of the possibility of massive newer state formations in the region. The main danger of the current armed conflicts in the region, unless contained in time, will be its cascading effect on the global economy. 

Respect plurality

The international community of democratic and multicultural countries along with the United States has urged the Iraqi prime minister to respect the plurality of the Iraqi society and run an inclusive government. At the moment, it is sane advice, since popular aspirations in Iraq are muddled with Jihadi missions. The ISIS that is fast spreading its control and influence in various urban areas of Iraq is an extreme form of Jihadi outfit, which is an off-shoot of the dreaded Al Qaeda. There are apprehensions that success of ISIS means creation of a terrorist state and that would not serve the interests of either moderate Sunnis or other countries. 

Yet another major issue is the fate of the Iraqi Kurds. Kurds are scattered in four countries -- Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. After decades of suffering, the Iraqi Kurds have been able to manage an autonomous living after the overthrow of the Saddam regime. But creation of a Kurdistan will disturb the political boundaries of four states and cause enormous bloodshed. Autonomy of Kurds in Iraq is thus desirable, if their exploitation ends and the government in Iraq respects multiculturalism.The big question is how to ensure Iraq’s territorial integrity and social stability. Iraq faces challenges within from the Sunni minorities, especially the Jihadi varieties.

 Regionally, it has become a battle ground for Saudis and the Iranians to spread their respective influence. Internationally, the main stakeholders in Iraqi stability—the major oil importers, such as China, Japan, India, the EU -- are powerless to intervene. Thus, the world is looking at the United States yet again to do something about Iraq.

Three years after withdrawing entire US military contingent from Iraq, refusing to take military action against Syria despite Assad’s disrespect for his Red Line and repeatedly expressing his determination to ending the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration finds it hard to rush to another war against Jihadis in Iraq.But can the US keep its hands off in face of expansion of Jihadism, probability of territorial division of Iraq and the danger of its spillover effects in the rest of the region and the wider world. Will the US give free hand to Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as it did to Pakistan after the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989? If the Shia-Sunni tussle expands, will it not affect Pakistan where the second largest Shia population in the world resides? May it not threaten to give birth to a Shia nuclear bomb endangering the nuclear dialogue between Iran and the West? 

Realising all these, president Obama has dispatched one aircraft carrier and two warships to the Persian Gulf, committed a few hundred military advisors to assist the Iraqi government and some special forces to protect the American citizens and other US interests in Iraq. Use of the Drone is not ruled out nor is the surgical air strikes. There may not be large scale American boots on the ground, but the US seems to be already fighting its third Iraq war after the 1991 war over Kuwait and the 2003 war in the name of eliminating WMD.

(The writer is chairperson, US studies programme, JNU)

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