Reconciling Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis
With city after city in Shia-governed Iraq being overrun by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)––a Sunni Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization whose stated objective is to unite Iraq and Syria, and perhaps eventually more of the Levant (Lebanon, for instance), into a single large fundamentalist caliphate––the threat of a sectarian civil war in the region is heightened. In response, the U.S. is now considering a military intervention similar in scope to its 2011 military intervention in Libya.
Speaking from the South Lawn on Jun. 13, President Obama described the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War as further magnifying, at least in his mind, America’s stake in Iraq’s wellbeing, declaring, “We have enormous interests there and obviously our troops and the American people and the American taxpayers made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better course, a better destiny.”
The president’s reasons for intervening are sound. Indeed, given that Iraq is fast becoming a very influential supplier of oil what with indications that any unrest in that country, which experts claim could overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer in the next ten years, could cause the price of oil to soar, by no means is it surprising that the U.S., dependent on foreign oil as it still is in spite of Obama’s Energy Security Trust (an oil-dependency reduction initiative first mentioned during the 2013 State of the Union address), should display such concern for Iraq’s wellbeing.
Others, most notably the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who argue that Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shia president, is to blame for marginalizing and thereby antagonizing the Sunni Iraqis and their Awakening militias, suggest that the U.S. should refrain from acting against the rampaging ISIS until Maliki, at the very least, relaxes his grip on power and becomes more inclusive of the Sunnis. However, their hesitance to interfere in Iraq, though admirable given America’s prior aggressiveness, seems irresponsible in light of the indiscriminate violence that appears to have gripped Iraq. Americans, much less Obama who is looking to cement his legacy as president, do not want historians to liken the current crisis in Iraq to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which, though preventable, was allowed to happen due to the U.S.’s isolationism following the failed humanitarian effort in Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down). No, the U.S. must, in some form or another, intervene in Iraq to stop the bloodshed.
Which is where Iran comes into the picture. Now, with the U.S. and Iran hinting at a dubious partnership against the surging ISIS, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s past warnings not to trust Tehran, or to take its newfound policy of détente at face value, seem almost prophetic. That the U.S. is even considering this alliance with Iran, a longstanding rival of Iraq whose governing institution of Shia clerics would, I imagine, naturally favor Iraq’s Shias over its Sunnis, bodes ill for any eventual reconciliation effort between the two warring factions. Instead of further alienating the Sunnis by branding them as terrorists––hence, the enemy––when, in truth, there are Shia extremists just as there are Sunni extremists, the U.S. should focus its efforts on seeking out and bringing together the moderate elements of both the Shias and the Sunnis, in a bid to foster a positive exchange of words and ideas between the two. Elsewise, the centuries-old rift between the Shias and the Sunnis will merely be thickened, and the senseless cycle of violence perpetuated.
“Obama Finds He Can’t Put Iraq War Behind Him,” by Peter Baker
“Details of Obama’s Plan to Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil Emerge,” by Tim Profeta
“Iraqi Shiite Cleric Issues Call to Arms,” by Alissa J. Rubin, Suadad al-Salhy, and Rick Gladstone
“Hillary Clinton says she is ‘personally skeptical’ about an Iran nuclear deal,” by Philip Rucker
Copyright © 2014 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.