After ‘victory’ over ISIS, Iraq slips further into sectarianism
In a grandiose speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS), ostensibly ending years of almost constant warfare.
The Baghdad government marked the occasion with a large military parade, which only state media were invited to cover, even as the head of the US-led coalition, US Army Lieutenant-General Paul E. Funk II, warned that the fight was far from over.
This and ISIS’s continuing attacks have led to suspicions that Abadi’s grand declaration was meant for public consumption ahead of elections in 2018.
The war against ISIS began in 2013 as Abadi’s ultra-hard-line Shia Islamist predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, opened the door to the militant group’s extremist designs by unleashing the Iraqi security forces against largely Sunni Arab peaceful protesters. The protesters, who had been demonstrating for more than a year, said the government was marginalising and discriminating against them because of their religious beliefs.
After almost four years of constant fighting against ISIS, these conditions appear unchanged and may have worsened, even as Abadi hailed Iraqi “unity” as a primary factor behind ISIS’s defeat.
The Sunni Arabs are massively underrepresented in all major government and state institutions, including the military and security forces. Entire cities lie in ruins. Refugee camps housing internally displaced people are bursting at the seams with more than 3 million registered people needing urgent aid and resettlement back to their devastated towns and cities, which need to be rebuilt.
Human Rights Watch released a 76-page report saying that 20,000 Iraqis accused of being ISIS supporters were languishing in “inhumane” prison facilities and being held incommunicado without access to attorneys or due process.
In a single bloody day — December 14 — Iraqi authorities executed 38 prisoners accused of terrorism. Iraq’s justice system is notorious for handing out death sentences on non-specific charges, preferring to try suspects without providing effective opportunities for them to defend themselves and accusing them of terrorism by association.
This means even doctors who worked underduress in ISIS-controlled areas can be executed and children as young as 13 are being put on trial.
In a pattern that should be clear to all, most of the people affected by these human rights abuses are Sunni Arabs. It is bizarre that Abadi talks of unity and winning back Iraq from the hands of extremists when he has relied on a veritable army of pro-Iran Shia jihadists who have perpetrated grave sectarian atrocities against large segments of his own people.
It is also a concern that Sunni participation in Iraq’s alleged democracy is not deemed important, as internally displaced people will be more concerned with day-to-day survival than perusing the manifestos of political parties.
If the Iraqi authorities do not learn from the mistakes of the past, they will be doomed to repeat them. It is no good complaining about radicalisation and extremism when the state has institutionalised an Iranian brand of sectarianism that allows Shia extremists to literally get away with murder, while persecuting innocents for the crimes of Sunni extremists such as ISIS simply because they profess the same faith.
Abadi needs to stop his political stunts designed to win votes in the next election and focus on building real unity within Iraq. He can do that by holding extremists within the security forces to account for war crimes and by purging state institutions of any extremists.
However, it is clear he is powerless to do anything of the sort without Tehran’s approval, so the bloody business of sectarianism will continue to thrive. Baghdad will only have itself to blame when a new threat emerges, perhaps far worse than ISIS ever was.