by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS—“Since last summer’s onslaught by terrorists of the so-called ISIL, Iraq has been living through one of the most difficult phases of its modern history,” came the sobering assessment of Jan Kubis, the UN’s special representative reviewing the current situation in Iraq. Yet in a Security Council briefing on the embattled Middle Eastern country, Dr. Kubis added, “While problems may seem daunting and persistent, there is hope, opportunities, and notably vision for the way out of this crisis.”
Part of the vision is finding a still elusive political solution to solve Iraq’s ethnic and particularly inter-Islamic division. As Kubis said, “Iraq’s political process is moving forward, but without the needed vigor.”
The Slovak diplomat was speaking at a Security Council meeting for the renewal of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
Confronting the military situation from the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remains paramount. “One year after the fall of Mosul, a third of Iraq remains under the control and governance of ISIL,” Dr. Kubis stated adding, “military offensives of the Iraqi security forces, tribal Sunni volunteers, and the International coalition, have yet to significantly change the situation on the ground.”
Stated another way, the still Shiite sectarian government in Baghdad has yet to gain the needed legitimacy to serve as a counterweight to Islamic militants most of whom in this case are from the Sunni minority. Serious setbacks in strategic Anbar province, secured by American blood and heroism after the successful “Iraqi surge” in 2007, have been squandered.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaking after the stunning fall of Ramadi in May, stated bluntly that the “Iraqi military does not seem to have the will to fight.” Secretary Carter offered a sober assessment to a CNN interview, “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.” The Iraqis are preparing for a counteroffensive to retake Ramadi
But beyond the military confrontation Iraq faces a staggering human cost of ongoing conflict.
Bombings of mosques, markets and government facilities continue to take a large toll of civilians killed and injured. As Dr. Kubis stressed, “The humanitarian situation is of the gravest concern. At least 8.2 million, roughly one in four Iraqis need urgent assistance, of which half need food assistance.”
He added, “More than three million people are internally displaced and partners estimate that nearly a million more are likely to be displaced by continuing conflict and violence in the months ahead.” Some positive news however shows that some internally displaced Iraqis are starting to return to areas the government has freed from terrorist control.
“Iraq is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious communities, and each component of the Iraqi people has suffered from a range of violations and abuses perpetrated at various times over recent decades,” Dr. Kubis asserted. He added that taking steps to protect the country’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, the Kurds and the Christians, “will be challenging.”
Iraq’s ancient Christian communities have been a particular target of ISIL especially in northern cities such as Mosul.
Dr. Kubis stressed that in the current phase of the conflict, ISIL policy “Aim at or result in forced demographic changes, and the targeting of communities considered to be ‘undesirable.’ ”
Yet let’s not underestimate ISIL’s allure and bizarre appeal to Sunnis in large swaths of the troubled region. Media analyst Mina al-Lami of the BBC Monitoring, writing in Monitor states, “By declaring a caliphate, no matter how illegitimate and deviant, IS successfully capitalized on the symbolism, pride, romanticism and nostalgia for the caliphate drilled into the minds of Muslims since their youth.”
Indeed the historic inter-Islamic rift has been exploited by Sunni ISIL as well as by Iran who has backed the Shiite majority and brought Iraq under the political and religious sway of Tehran. As the Obama Administration hastened to gain a quick and politically expedient military exit from Iraq in 2011, an untested government in Baghdad soon fell back into its traditional sectarian mode which subsequently led to the rise of Islamic State.
Outgoing General Ray Odierno, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, stated that President Obama, backed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, strongly pushed for the American pullout.
Iraq’s UN delegate Mohamed Ali Alhakim said the crisis in his country was part of a wider terrorist onslaught of the “mutually destabilizing impacts of the situations in Syria and Iraq.”
Without question, but who will stop it?