Iraqi leadership still wearing sectarian blinders.
The new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made all of the right statements about a new level of inclusiveness—bringing Suni leadership into the Shia dominated government, but it has yet to be translated into concrete action. Part of the reason is the wariness on the part of Sunis to believe him. After all, they point out, he comes from the same political party that al-Maliki led.
More significant for the long run, al-Abadi has yet to share the enormous oil revenue in any meaningful way with the Sunis. The Kurds have their own oil fields in the Kirkuk region. But the Sunis are left out and unless that changes, it will forever be an obstacle to their acceptance of a Shia dominated central government. For all the talk of representative government and democracy, the key issue, as it is in most of the Middle-East, is Oil.
Al-abadi gives other evidences of the wearing of blinders. He has yet to grasp the ineffectual nature of the Iraqi national army with its politically appointed and inexperienced leadership.
Finally, he demonstrates his provincial world view in his attitude toward coalition air forces. BBC reports that ‘he “totally” opposes Arab nations joining air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in his country.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who have joined in with Western air strikes in Syria, are Suni powers, which no doubt accounts for al-Abadi’s reluctance to see them engage in battle over his Shia led country. Never mind that they are fighting Sunis jihadis in ISIS.
It should be remembered that the Shia were ruled with an iron hand by Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, which was Suni. But by his stance on Saudi and Jordanian air forces, however limited they are, he exhibits a total lack of understanding of the geo-political situation. It is considered essential that the fight against ISIS is not just American or even a Western fight. Yet, in al-Abadi’s sectarian view, this is not even a consideration. He is simply reacting to a Suni presence
This provincial attitude is part of what led to the unexpectedly fast loss of Mosul and then the rest of the cities and towns ISIS quickly conquered. The Ba’ath party, though socialist and secular in theory, was the party of the dictator Saddam Hussein (as it is of Assad in Syria). In al-Maliki’s “de-ba’athification” purge, in one stroke in 2008, he basically fired the entire upper echelon of the experienced, and Suni, Iraqi military leadership, and replaced them with political appointments from the ranks of untrained Shia cronies. Even though they had over three hundred thousand soldiers in Mosul, without experienced leadership they panicked and ran under ISIS attack, leaving behind their cache of U.S. provided weapons. The Iraqi army simply crumbled under the ISIS charge, and they retreated in a chaotic manner from literally dozens of other cities formerly under their control. Which, of course, is why we now find ISIS within 40 kilometers of Baghdad. Yet, in a denial of all of this, al-Abadi would only acknowledge that the air strikes “filled many gaps” in the fight against ISIS. And he still has not reached out to the former Suni experience military leaders. In a recent interview, denying the need for any ground troops other than his own. Al-Abadi said that they would defeat ISIS “if we have good air cover.” He added, “We are very clear we will not accept any troops on the ground except Iraqi troops.”
Al-Maliki’s army was trained by the U.S. for more than six years and we saw the result of that training without skilled leadership in the lightening-quick collapse of his forces in the face of the ISIS advance. Unless al-Abadi changes his attitude toward the former Ba’ath military leadership, it is difficult to imagine major progress.