What went wrong?
President Obama had his own “Mission Accomplished” moment. Speaking on the occasion of last US troop withdrawal from Iraq, President Obama stood alongside Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki and declared:
“What we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self governing that is inclusive and that has enormous potential”
Soon after US withdrawal from Iraq Maliki ordered the arrest of Vice President Tarek Al Hashimi who was a part of the unity Government in Iraq as a representative of Sunnis. Tarek Al Hashimi fled Iraq but he was sentenced to death in absentia. This was a clear message that Sunni minorities will have no role in the power structures of Iraq. What began after that was a series of unrelenting attacks against the Sunni minority in and around Baghdad.
The Shiite militia were brutal. Daily Sunnis were turning up dead in the streets of Baghdad. Maliki also enraged the Sunni tribesmen who had earlier played a vital role in defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. In the final act of barbarity Maliki ordered the killing of hundreds and hundreds of Sunni protesters in the city of Haweeja. It was brutal. Maliki was trying to suppress dissent in the same way Saddam suppressed the Shiites during his regime.
Praveen Swami’s claim that IS is trying to polarize the society is not accurate. The civil society of Iraq was not only polarized but was already at war before IS appeared on the scene and exploited the situation for its nefarious designs.
Will India play a role in resolving the Iraq crisis?
It is unlikely that India will directly get involved in resolving the Iraqi civil war. So far India does not see IS as a big enough threat to its national security to warrant the deployment of its army in the most volatile region of the world. The Government of India has maintained its silence over the fate of 39 Indian citizens believe to be trapped inside Iraq.
The civil war in Iraq continues in the backdrop of the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. India has cordial relations both with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indian boots on Iraqi soil will inadvertently antagonize one or both regional powers involved in the conflict.
What are the risks?
Even the most well equipped army in the world suffered around 37,030 casualties in Iraq including 4807 deaths of soldiers. Even with the most well-intentioned presence, India cannot rule out casualties if India deploys its troops in Iraq. The slow trickle of casualties could become a political problem for the Indian Government just like it became a problem for the Bush administration. It is also possible that right wing Hindutva extremists may incite riots against the Muslim minority of India by exploiting the consequences of war in Iraq.
India like other countries should try monitor the sympathizers who want to go to fight for IS or for the Shiite militias. Battle hardened militants returning from conflict zones are the most immediate threat to India and other countries. It is urgent and important that India brings in laws similar to the laws brought by Australia that makes it illegal for citizens to travel to conflict zones without a very good explanation.
Why is the Western alliance not beating back IS?
There can be many possible explanations. The West does not want to sacrifice more blood and treasure in Iraq. The rich Sunnis from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries may have convinced the US administration that destroying IS completely will bring back the tyranny of Iran backed Shiite militias and hence US may be more interested in the policy of containment rather than complete decimation of IS. The Sunni militants are also battling the Assad regime is Syria and US wants to see Assad go. In a bid to trigger a negotiated settlement US forced Nuri Al Maliki to step down but by then it was too late. The West does not have any easy solution to the Iraq-Syria conundrum.
What drives IS?
Praveen Swami has quoted a Quranic verse which legitimizes violence during war. Now it doesn’t really take Quran for people to carry out violent acts during war. Quran or no Quran, wars are always violent and brutal. The question is why is IS so barbaric? To understand this question we need to understand what exactly is IS? The armies in the middle east are not trained to fight external aggression. They are trained and armed to contain dissent in the masses as we have recently witnessed in Egypt. The dictators of the middle east employ their armies to mass murder and torture civilians. IS is made up of ex Saddam loyalists and the remnants of the Iraqi army. They were also trained to be brutal towards civilians. They are doing what they were trained to do.
The people of Iraq, especially the Sunni tribesmen are not fanatical which is evident from the fact that they played a key role in defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. They welcomed IS seeing it as the only choice against the brutality of Shiite militias but this deal with the devil has created a monster that is now threatening the entire region. Eventually people will rise against the brutality and barbarism of IS. What price will Iraqis pay for reviving the ghost of Saddam? Only time will tell.
PS: I strongly recommend interested people watch this brilliant documentary by Martin Smith on the miscalculations by the West that allowed IS to grow.