The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant



About a month ago, Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq successfully re-captured the city of Fallujah, signaling to onlookers a pervasive spread of militant jihadism in the already war-torn country. Despite the withdrawal of American troops, for the Iraqis, the war is still actively being fought, with Al-Qaeda rapidly gaining strength.

Motivated by a staunch opposition to Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite dominated government, Al-Qaeda in Iraq has embarked on carving an independent Islamic state known as the de facto Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL. Their work has paid dividends: the state's borders now extend into neighboring Syria, a result of the uprising there against government forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The ISIL’s new wave of authoritarianism is rapidly gaining strength, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of Iraq and Syria, respectively.

At the same time, Prime Minister al Maliki’s proclivity for authoritarianism–evident in his desire to marginalize Sunnis in the government—forces one to conclude that Iraq is still deeply encapsulated by anti-democratic tendencies. In fact, I would argue that the current prime minister’s failed attempts at approaching minority groups are reflective of a quasi-dictatorial regime.

Prior to the American invasion, Iraq was stable, with Sunni militancy nowhere to be seen. Yet, that is simply not the case now: Iraq today ceases to be the Iraq it once was before the US invaded. What went wrong?

A decade ago, democracy seemed to be the panacea for the Middle East’s problems, a view put forward boldly by the neo-conservative wing of the United States. But their failure to analyze domestic concerns—at time of political uncertainty—destroyed any viable space for democracy to develop, and helped spawn the militant groups that plague the country today: Al-Qaeda was formed in late 2003 following the American invasion of Iraq. Due to the power vacuum that formed after Saddam Hussein went into hiding, militant Sunni Islam quickly developed into the biggest threat to American interests.

Syria is also grappling with a very similar but not identical situation. Here, the Syrians opposed to the Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarianism instigated a revolution(which is still ongoing). Here, a group of Sunnis organized themselves and pledged support to Al-Qaeda in Iraq(hoping to exploit the regional tension in order to integrate their Syrian strongholds with their Iraqi counterparts). Indifference to these groups because of political differences has made it all the more difficult to negotiate a settlement that is amenable to both sides.

These powerful developments emanating from the Middle East demonstrate a region constantly disturbed by sectional interests and polarizing ideologies. Is there a solution?

If you take a look at the deleterious effects of  a new government and the personalities in power today, the state system is rupturing quickly. The Middle East is taking a different route toward political organization. The ISIL and the anti-Assad warring groups in Syria have their own agendas, which seek to destroy stability. Democracy is failing miserably, portending even greater odds of a new wave of authoritarian governments—civilian or militant.