No Man’s Land

from Wikimedia CommonsA little over a decade ago, the United States brought war to Iraq. Within weeks, its dictatorship was toppled and its original infrastructure destroyed. While the war went to off in a positive direction, it soon turned into an uncontrollable situation that interfered with local sentiments and ideologies. With the U.S. war effort implemented, a new political system was created. After the U.S. ceased to participate in the conflict in late 2011, the war had finally come to end for the Americans. A war that had incurred numerous costs in the billions and widespread international condemnation compelled the U.S. to end its operations for good.

But not for the Iraqis.

Even after American withdrawal, the war in Iraq continues, often violently and indiscriminately against innocent civilians, most of them pilgrims paying their respects in mosques, which are considered to be a sanctuary. Some about-to-be victims are seen in the business sectors of Mosul and Baghdad shopping for food, not knowing what will soon happen to them as suicide bombers lurk nearby.

A civil feud became prevalent in which Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims battled against one another for political dominance when the seeds of democracy were beginning to germinate.  Radical factions of Sunni Muslims such as Al Qaeda of Iraq have coalesced into a grand network of militant organizations that adamantly seek to topple the current government and Iraqi Shi’ites. Since 2011, an armed insurgency stemming from the Sunni Islamist minority has tried to threaten and subvert key institutions indispensable for the proper functioning of democracy.

Nowadays, suicide car bombings and kidnappings are common throughout Iraq. This past weekend, a suicide bomber targeting Shi’ite pilgrims detonated his device, killing nearly 50 people. Iraq has become an active battleground for sectarian violence, and a hostile place for anarchy to thrive. Even worse, Iraqi security forces are generally unable to counter these types of attacks, signifying the unpredictability of this ignominious phenomenon.

However, for Iran this turmoil presents an opportunity. With a Shi’ite government in power, Iran depends on Iraq for greater leverage in the Middle East.

Iran uses Iraq to funnel weapons to Syria to demonstrate its commitment to Bashar al-Assad, the current leader who happens to be a Shi’ite. To counterbalance these developments, radical Sunnis simply go across the Iraq-Syrian border to fight on behalf of the Free Syrian Army, Assad’s primary enemy.

All in all, Iraq is not what it previously was. The U.S. and most of the world have drifted away from Iraqi domestic politics, not having fully assessed the implications of the conflict. Put simply, an external conflict that prewar Iraq faced ultimately became an internal one in which bellicose Sunnis sought to undermine the legitimacy of both the American invasion and Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Now, no one is in control. The bloodshed points to this fact.

Though the U.S. did champion democracy and regime change for the right reasons, it did not bring it through in light of the domestic situation. Tens of hundreds Iraqi citizens continue to die everyday all because of a new foreign political system and which is often at odds with minorities. Even in the national government, Sunni politicians are marginalized by Shi’ites and treated as competitors for authority, rather than friends for future cooperation. Even some commentators have labeled the Al-Maliki government as dictatorial and increasingly authoritative. If there is evidence for instability in the government, how can a state exercise its functions within its territory?

Iraq lacks confidence. Irreversible changes have done more harm than good. New forms of violence may well continue in the future. Iraq’s security is mostly fragile without a concrete method to chase suspected perpetrators, and the result is ongoing civil war—a sort of no man’s land.

As dismal as the situation appears to be, one can only wait to see if a new leadership emerges to strike some balance amenable to both Sunnis and Shi’ites. At the least, it could allow for a peaceful resolution that Iraqis have desired since the American invasion. Yet, disturbances continue. Only a change in some catalyst may change the mixture. For the good or bad, we will simply have to see.