For a month now, ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has been making gains in northern Iraq, along the western borders with Syria, and near the borders of Kurdish controlled areas. Robert Fisk’s article at The Independent is a short essay and Damian Thompson’s article at The Telegraph are part of the few who explain the complexity of Sunni, Shia, and Salafid religious differences in the conflict. The issues in Iraq are not simply about Sunni and Shia but also about a third group, Wahhabi/Salafid extremist. However, many in the US press have been quick to over simplify the issues on the ground and say that it is the result of the failed policies of the US/GB invasion and occupation. Of course Monday morning QBs never get game time but always have opinions and I like to wonder about what ifs myself. What we have to really ask ourselves is would Iraq be any different if the invasion never happened and the US remained in Afghanistan.
The first real question we have to ask is what would have happened when Saddam Hussein died while in office. Whether by natural cause, political coup, or assassination, the natural collapse of the country into three regions based on the strongholds of the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds would have organically occurred. Of course fighting within the country, would then fold into control over the two major oilfields in the Shia and Kurdish dominated regions. Thus, the factions of Sunni leaders would seek outside help and funding resulting in the incursion of al Qaeda and groups of the like. Baathist leaders who believed in a secular Arab state would have quickly folded into the Sunni militias controlled or at least aligned with the Iraqi clerics. Iran would bring in aid to the Eastern Shia region via undercover Republican Guard. Then western governments would have to take a side. Sound familiar?
The second what if would be the assumption that Saddam would remain in office until the coming collapse of Syria. If the Arab Spring had happened with Saddam in office, his pseudo-support of the Baathist in Syria would have led to his involvement. Once the fighting in Syria would begin, Hussein would have to have taken a side or else risk a political balance that would slide to Iranian influences. As a result, ISIL could have been generated by its supporters in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi clerics, and/or al Qaeda as a counter to the Baathist leaders of both countries and the Shia Iranian connections. Looking to make gains and to destabilize the region further, ISIL fighting would spill over from Syria into the western deserts of Iraq as a hope to free Sunni’s from the secularist governments of both dictators. Maybe even resulting in further assassination attempts by ISIL troops on Saddam. Escalation into a wider three sided regional war would be a major concern of Western governments and oil conglomerates; thus, outside involvement would be inevitable. Again, Sound familiar?
Iraq was a de facto quasi socialist dictatorship holding the wedge between Wahhabi extremist in Saudi Arabia and Militant Shia Leadership in Iran. Now the wedge is gone and there is nothing between the two groups. One produces oil for the West and uses those funds to support and develop radicalized Islam like al Qaeda. The other is a split personality of Radical Islamic Twelevers controlling a government that subdues moderate Shia Muslims looking for global acceptance. Which ever side the US and Western governments chose they would be stepping into a religious civil war. None of the three seem logical or even practical. An even better question is not the what if, or who, but why. Why should Christians support Islamic radicals, of any kind, so that gas remains cheap?
Genocide is an abomination but we can’t fake helping to stop it if our intentions are clearly alternative. If western governments are willing to intervene then it must be to stabilize, for the long term, the region and not concentrate on the exploitation of oil reserves or which group gets to use them. Watching the slow collapse of Sudan and South Sudan, and the lack of US engagement, is sad to say the least.