Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Iraq, Syria and the challenge of sectarian terrorism

Iraq is suffering greatly.

On Saturday, co-ordinated car bombings killed over 50 people.

On Sunday, more than 60 civilians were killed as they gathered to celebrate the breaking of fast (the culmination of Ramadan).

Yesterday, terrorists attacked a cafe and playground, killing around 20 people.

Empowered by recent prison breaks and emboldened by a growing sense of political disenfranchisement in Sunni communities, Iraq's core Salafist Jihadi alliance (ISI/L) is pursuing a relentless campaign of terrorism. The intention of this campaign is clear - to attack communal, Shia dominated public gatherings... so as to maximize civilian casualties... fostering a pervasive condition of physical and psychological insecurity... forcing a overaggressive reaction against Sunnis by Iraq's Shia majority government... facilitating a descent into open sectarian civil war. As I argued in June, Iraq now stands on the precipice of civil war.

Unrestrained by any logical moral compass and intoxicated by the notion of serving a divine righteousnessthese ideologues view extreme violence as a just and necessary tool. Of course, their understanding is patently absurd - in actuality, they're the worst enemies of Islam (incidentally, yesterday's playground attack took place in a town where US forces once helped build a school). But regardless of their moral delusion, their actions are threatening Iraq's existence. 

In response, the Obama Administration must engage with the Iraqi government about the prospect of increased US Military/Intelligence support. Stan McChrystal's counter-terrorist campaign provides a powerful template for how small groups of individuals can contribute to significant improvements in civil security.

We also need to remember that this isn't a localized crisis. For a start, f
acing attacks on Syrian Kurds from ISI/L formations in Syria, the leaders of Iraq's Kurdish community are threatening to intervene in that country. In addition, under serious pressure, the Lebanese Hizballah are also likely to resort to greater violence. 

Ultimately, the more sectarian frictions increase, the greater the bloodshed that will follow.

The west is far from immune to this crisis. In the longer term, this toxic blend of ideological totalitarianism and sectarian hatred will pose a severe threat to global security (see the looming impact of nuclear proliferation).

My other writings on MENA.

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