In late June, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Adadi declared “we are seeing the end of the fake Daesh (ISIS) state”, a proclamation which is of symbolic and strategic importance.
Pro-government forces, comprised of state police and military, as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga and other militias, are closing in on the final holdouts of the ISIS contingent in Mosul. Government forces have secured the al-Nuri mosque marking the looming success of a gruelling six month campaign.
We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state, the liberation of Mosul proves that. We will not relent, our brave forces will bring victory
— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) June 29, 2017
While al-Adadi’s statements and the greater successes of the Iraqi military coalition have been lauded by the foreign press as a death note of the Islamic State’s reign of terror in the besieged and embattled region, it unfortunately does not mark an end to the ongoing narrative of violence in Iraq and little more than a brief reprieve to the Iraqi people.
The destruction of ISIS may likely return Iraq to zero, to the state it was in post US invasion in which ISIS was able to form.
Since the time of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been subject to brutal sectarian conflicts and foreign occupation. As a Shiite majority nation led by a Shiite majority government, Iraq is a boiling pot for infectious and disastrous cultural conflict. The possible imminent collapse of ISIS in Iraq may mark a significant turning point for the Iraqi government and those of surrounding regions, but not for the Iraqi people. The eradication of the Islamic State only returns Iraq to the lawless and chaotic boiling pot that allowed such an extremist movement as ISIS to fester.
The war on ISIS and it’s stranglehold on much of Iraq since the 2014 militant uprising which saw theso-called caliphate sweep through Mosul and large regions of the country, has put the Iraqi military under tremendous pressure. Foreign backed air strikes from the US-led coalition continue, but the ground fighting has mostly been left to the Iraqi forces and their unlikely allies.
The recapture of Mosul alone has seen the Iraqi forces draw on a number of armed militias. Among them, Sunni and Shiite factions alike, as well as the famed Peshmerga, the military wing of the Kurdish people of Iraq. The Kurdish people have a long and complex history in the Middle East, and with the imminent collapsed of the Islamic State, their future is uncertain.
The Kurdish people of Iraq live in an area of Iraq governed by the Kurdish people, with their own government, police, military, though still somewhat beholden to, but also benefitting from, the rule of the Iraqi government. Last month, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan announced it would be holding an independence referendum in September. The historic vote furthers the push for Kurdish independence in the Middle East, but also further inflames existing cultural strife with the Kurdish people, particularly in Turkey.
I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, September 25, 2017https://t.co/Woj0JuYZNE
— Masoud Barzani (@masoud_barzani) June 7, 2017
Having held such a key combative role, despite the Iraqi governments condemnation, push for an Independent Kurdish state may very well hold more weight moving forward. In the chaotic remnants left in the wake of ISIS, not unlike that left behind after the US invasion of 2004, Kurdish independence may find a foot hold. Yet the struggle of Independence may likely be a violent one.
As well as from cultural sects, the Iraqi government also drew upon militias with major military backing, namely Shiite militants with backing from Iran.
Iran continually finds itself amidst discussions of worrying military action and expanding spheres of influence, and while the narrative portrayed of Iran is not an entirely correct one, Iran’s strengthening of its influence in Iraq is troubling. Especially considering the unfolding saga in the Gulf, in which Iran has certified its diplomatic ties to an isolated Qatar.
Iran appears to be strengthening its place in Iraq via militant proxy, subsequently strengthening its role in the conflict in Syria where it supports the government regime. Supporting President Bashir al-Assad, Iran has clearly demonstrated its agenda in cementing a untied Shiite Middle East.
In Iraq, a nation of such a culturally divided population – Sunni and Shiite – the role of Iran and Shiite militants in conjunction with the Sunni government may lead to only further sectarian blood shed. In their battle against the Sunni Islamic State, the Shiite militias have been accused of excessive force though these claims they dispute as being isolated events. It is likely that Sunnis who have suffered under such acts may retaliate should Iran and its Shiite forces remain on Iraq.
The vacuum left by ISIS is not unlike that left by the US, and likely to only further sectarian blood shed in the country.