The reports we have been hearing from U.S. officials and members of the American media about the situation in Iraq are quite alarming. They tell us a group of Muslim extremists known as the Islamist State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al Qaeda split-off, has been murdering Shiite families and government collaborators in the most brutal way as they take city after city in Iraq; Their goal? To overthrow the government of Nouri al Maliki in order to establish a strict Islamist government run by Sharia Law. The barbarians, we are told, have already taken several cities in the north of Iraq, including Mosul and Tikrit, the country’s second biggest city and the home of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, respectively. They continue to push towards Baghdad, spreading death and destruction in their path.
What we are not being told is that ISIS is only one element of several that have risen to fight against the government of Nouri al Maliki, which has been unpopular from the beginning, and is said to have used fraud and intimidation to stay in power after losing parliamentary elections in 2010. As reports become available from various different sources, a different picture unfolds before our eyes, a picture of not only a sectarian government that, while established by the United States, seems to answer to the government in Iran, but also of a movement of armed resistance that includes members of the former Awakening Councils, Tribal Leaders, and former members of Saddam’s military. ISIS, it seems, is able to move easily through the country because of the pacifying effect of the other elements of the rebellion, which are said to have resorted to nonviolent means in the past, but to no avail.
According to a group of prominent European politicians the conflict taking place in Iraq is a movement of armed popular resistance in response to the al Maliki government, which they said has resorted to the indiscriminate killing of civilians and missile strikes against members of the resistance to crush political dissent, all under the guidance of elite Iranian military forces. They portray the al Maliki government as sectarian and violent, and hold it responsible for the crisis. The group of politicians is called the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), and it is chaired by the President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq.
Meanwhile the United States government finds itself in an interesting position. On one hand, Washington has recently financed ISIS in their efforts to overthrow the Assad government in Syria, but the group itself is so extreme and brutal that even al Qaeda wants nothing to do with it! On the other hand, the al Maliki government, which is calling for U.S. airstrikes against the rebels, is being strongly supported by Teheran, and it is part of an oil pipeline an alliance with Iran, Syria and Russia. The Persian pipeline would bypass and rival an Arab pipeline financed by U.S. allies, prominently Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Which means that at this moment any strong response by the White House could lead to charges of aiding the enemy, therefore the response has so far been to limit involvement to the protection of American interests in Iraq.
Perhaps the Obama administration has gotten this one right, at least for the moment, as it seems that the best response is to wait until there is more clarity around who might end up arising as the leader of Iraq. Once a clear leader emerges, a great opportunity might also emerge: the opportunity to work with Iran in order to support a political solution to a crisis that Washington created and Teheran exacerbated; Such solution would only work if the end objective is to allow the Iraqi people to establish an inclusive government by and for Iraqis. Supporting such a solution would require both the United States and Iran to set their differences aside, and to work together for a new, democratic and inclusive Iraq, a goal above and beyond their own individual interests.