Back to square one: Ominous signs in Iraq

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Use force. Support the rebels. Back the rebels to overthrow the status quo. Create a power vacuum that many of the warlords can look forward to. Back an armed group and then wait for it to become the next big thing.

No, I’m not referring to what transpired in Iraq in 2004. It’s 2017 and the script seems to be the same again. Nothing new. Groups have rebranded themselves to get a large share of the pie. There’s no room for au revoir. Welcome to the contemptuous world Iraq has lately become.

Let’s consider the demographics. The northern part of the country, of which Mosul is an integral part, is primarily, a Kurdish mainland. Kurds are a majority in this part of the country. Then comes the central Baghdad, Najaf and the adjoining areas. Shiites are in a majority in the region. Basra epitomizes the southern part of Iraq. Adherents of Sunni Islam form a majority here.

Since IS is retreating, Mosul may not yet have the last laugh. Adjoining areas such as Tel Afar may serve as the breeding ground for another insurgency. Remember, Al-Qaeda in Iraq rebranded itself to establish the Caliphate. The local support base for the Sunni insurgent groups never staved off.

A power vacuum, once provided, has a snowball effect. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi latched onto it and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) emerged. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you just can’t have it go back. After the Iraqi Parliament consented to the establishment of the Mobilization Units in November 2016, the Shia and Sunni militias are expected to work towards getting the larger chunk.

Al-Qaeda, already playing the waiting game, would surely relish the prospects. And, add to the existing strife, the fighters from Sinjar, and AQI will be happier than ever. Sinjar is relatively more important. It is not only because of the ruthlessness the fighters from this region bring to the table, but it is about the age group they resort to. Thereby, it becomes imperative to alter the CTC game plan in here.

July 31 last year marked the 2nd anniversary of the war against the IS. The two years saw airpower being displayed by the coalition partners with full gallantry. There were more than 14,000 airstrikes on terrorist hideouts in Iraq and Syria. But, did it change the complexion for good. Well, it did turn the tables, but it all depends on which side of the fence you’re clinging on to.

It’s the story of backing the rebels. It’s an account of creating a dangerous insurgent group out of nowhere. It’s a tale of epic misery. Haven’t we seen enough of this? Whether it be the Anbar or the Salah-al-Din province, a shift in the counter-terrorism policies and the government response thereof is relatively scrimpy. It’s time for Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi to think outside the box, or perhaps, don’t repeat the same old stuff.

The role of AQ will be crucial in the next few months. What Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has in store will pretty much determine the state of affairs for not just the organization itself, but for the region as well. Also, you need to watch out for neo-Baathist groups such as the Jaysh Rijal-al-Tariqa Naqshbandia (JRTN). The group may team up with Al-Qaeda to step up the anti-government resistance.

ISIS is on the brink. Sunni insurgent groups are showing signs of mutual accord. Dr. Zawahiri have called for the unification of different groups. Guerilla mobilization is becoming seemingly imminent. Provincial elections are scheduled for April 2017. Combine all of this, and Al-Qaeda’s homecoming in Iraq seems enticingly decipherable.

Guerilla warfare in Iraq to end anytime soon? Unfortunately, no. It has just started all over again.

Shazar Shafqat
Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst. His research focuses on Pakistan-Afghanistan security environment, Middle East politics and security issues, counter-terrorism strategies and military-related affairs. In addition to being a contributor at Asia Times, his work features regularly in various media outlets including The Diplomat, Middle East Eye, World Policy Journal, Dawn, The News International, The Nation, Daily Times, and more.
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