Iraq Remains Highly Sectarian

By Sal Bommarito

A New York Times article brilliantly portrays the challenges facing Iraq as it tries to unify the nation while fending off ISIS jihadists. The author offers a bleak prognosis as Iraqis have not adopted a nationalistic fervor and remain loyal to their religious sects and tribes.

The Iraqi government recognizes that solidarity is critical to the survival of Iraq. And so, it has ordered that non-Iraqi flags be removed from public display and replaced with the Iraq flag. The order has been ignored universally by Shiites, Kurds, militias and, of course, ISIS. This defiance has “aggrieved” the Sunni community and, frankly, has tempered its desire to fight ISIS.

“Secondary identities- cultural, religious , our ethnicity- have prevailed.” Some other notable quotes in the piece include, “We don’t feel like we have a country that will defend us and protect us and love us.” “Each and every one of us has forgotten his country, and started thinking about his tribe and sect.” “Everyone is crying for his sect or faith, and you rarely find anyone who cries for Iraq.”

How does a dearth of nationalism affect the future of Iraq? The country cannot survive without the help of outsiders unless the citizens of Iraqi morph into a cohesive group with aspirations beneficial to their country; at this point, most Iraqis emphasize religious affiliation over country. Unfortunately, pervasive religious interference will have a debilitating effect on Iraq. It is through religion that fanaticism flourishes. It is difficult to imagine an Iraq that is not fraught with sectarian violence encouraged by insurgents from other Arab countries.

Iraqi officials have finally recognized that American insistence on sectarian cooperation is essential to unifying the country and degrading the ISIS threat. This means that the Shiite-controlled government must share leadership with Sunnis and Kurds. Shiites must forgive the oppression that was foisted upon them by Saddam Hussein. Additionally, precious natural resources must be allocated so all regions of the country can prosper economically. This entire process has been excruciatingly slow to develop.

One person interviewed in the article indicated that Iraq is not ready to be unified implying that sectarian violence will trump nationalism for the foreseeable future. This in turn will afford ISIS an ever-greater opportunity to build its caliphate when the U.S. walks away from the conflict.

Ironically, the success of the war and the rejection of ISIS are inextricably related to Iraq’s ability to muster a strong military to provide security for all Iraqis and fight ISIS on the ground. This is a pipedream in the minds of many observers including the author of this essay.

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