Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Iraq is in danger of further disintegration

By Li Shaoxian (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-27 09:01

Its peak point might be gone, but during the past months the Islamic State group has already plundered almost half of Iraq's territory and challenged several neighboring countries.

The rise of the IS group was the result of strategic imbalances in the Middle East, and it marks the start of further chaos in the region. For decades, stability in the Middle East had been maintained by two balances of power: that among global powers from outside, including the United States, which helped maintain the balance by containing Iran and Iraq in the 1990s, and that within, among Israel, Iran, Turkey and the Arab states.

It was the Iraq War in 2003 that opened Pandora's box. The George W. Bush administration might not have intended that, but by overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime that was predominately Sunni, it created an environment favorable to Shiites. Shiite forces from Iran entered Iraq and established access to Syria, thus forming a Shia crescent; the Sunnis who felt threatened united into military groups and that was the beginning of military confrontation.

Besides, with the iron hand of Saddam gone, no regime was strong enough to control the whole of Iraq, and there was competition among different armed groups. After 10 years of turmoil, control of Iraq is now divided between the Kurds in the north, the Shiites in the central government and the Sunnis, who are marginalized but still have considerable military capabilities.

The second decisive moment in the Middle East came in late 2010, when protests against the Tunisian government spread and led to the crisis in the Arab world known as the "Arab Spring".

The wave of unrest was caused by accumulated inadequate policies and the crises of Arab governments, but the West chose to interpret it as "a fight for democracy", and intervened through multiple means, including militarily in the case of Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown.

The US has compounded its mistakes in the Middle East by totally evacuating military forces from Iraq this year in the name of "strategic rebalancing". This left a power vacuum in Iraq that directly resulted in the violent expansion of the IS group.

As the IS fighters made rapid gains, the US updated its strategies several times in response. In other words, the US has no established strategy and it is only reacting to the changing situation instead of implementing a clear plan.

Even though the US has enough military capabilities to wipe the IS group off the map, its citizens are tired of fighting wars. The Barack Obama administration, which won the presidential election in 2008 with a promise of bringing US troops home, is finding it hard to rally support to send US ground forces overseas again.

Without enough help, even if the Iraqi government can defeat the IS extremists, there will be no hope of the country being reunited. The fact that the two candidates for the Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defense did not pass a parliamentary vote best explains how political forces in Iraq refuse to cooperate with each other.

Disintegration and a more tragic fate awaits Iraq. Those that can save it need to deliver their help before it is too late.

The author is a senior researcher on Middle East studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. This is an excerpt of his speech at a recent press salon held by the All China Journalists' Association.

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