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Tikrit igniting sectarian war in Iraq

Fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq is inevitable because there is only one conclusion

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq is inevitable because there is only one conclusion: you chase them or they chase you. There is no border demarcation, and no one recognizes the authority of the other. Iraqi forces are taking the lead in the city of Tikrit, one of the two most important Iraqi cities seized by ISIS.

They are also progressing in most of Saladin province and will most probably free it from terrorist groups, but just for a short period, because there are Iranian forces and sectarian militias fighting alongside the Iraqi army. Photos and information arising from there depict sectarian crimes.

The liberation of Tikrit and every inch of Iraqi territory is a national duty that expresses the integrity of the state’s authority. The city and its suburbs will remain within the boundaries of the Iraqi state.

The war has become sectarian and ethnic, with militias backed by Iranian forces intimidating the inhabitants of the besieged regions

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

However, if the aim is simply to control Tikrit and expel ISIS, with sectarian infighting and political alliances, it will be a temporary victory, and ISIS will return to the city with local support. The war has become sectarian and ethnic, with militias backed by Iranian forces intimidating the inhabitants of the besieged regions.

Most of the military activities on the ground are aided by the West. The United States provides precious intelligence information, observing the movements of terrorists and monitoring the status of the territories under their control.

It looks like a Shiite-Sunni war that has nothing to do with the state or the liberation of lands from ISIS. Will Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, who is supreme commander of the armed forces, be able to stop the sectarian war after the liberation of these areas? Unfortunately Sunnis are angry with him, though they were happy with his election because he promised to work on reconciliation. They now believe that he is weak.

Resemblance to Syria

They fear that the situation will get out of control. They will face the same fate as Syria, where clashes have turned into wars between Alawites and Sunnis, despite the denial of the regime in Damascus. It is now obvious, especially with the involvement of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. What is happening in Tikrit and Saladin province is similar to what is happening in Syria, with practically the same identities.

The Americans have to understand the nature of the fighting. They found themselves dragged back to Iraq because of ISIS provocations through heinous crimes and the threat to the Iraqi government during the last days of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s term. His administration administration sustained defeats, which enabled extremists to seize important sites and threaten the capital.

Although the Americans played an active role in the resignation of Maliki, and later acknowledged that his policies were behind the current disasters, they are now fighting in a trench similar to his camp, helping sectarian groups.
They might be able to free all Iraqi territory and eradicate ISIS and other rebels, but this war will be followed by a sectarian one similar to Syria’s. How will the United States benefit from supporting the Iraqi army without a political process that makes everyone a winner?

Western role

The Americans should realize that they have become part of the region’s repugnant sectarianism, fighting alongside Alawites in Syria and Shiites in Iraq, while negotiating with Shiite Iran on the nuclear issue. All three scenarios are against Sunnis, or at least this is how it seems. The Americans have put themselves in an unprecedented, terrible trap.

We hoped, and are still hoping, that the United States will participate in isolating Assad, the Syrian regime and its sectarianism, and support the moderate opposition that includes all religions and ethnic groups. We hoped that Washington would refrain from supporting the government in Baghdad unless it agreed to become representative of all Iraqis.

Widening the sectarian wars in the region will not serve the West. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and others are nothing but the outcome of such blind fighting. The West should help promote moderate civilian institutions against religious hardliners, not support the latter to achieve victories in wars against temporary opponents.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 6, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.