There’s a possibility that Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq could again start torturing the Sunni Arab population, pushing them more towards radicalization.
[Bahauddin Foizee | Oped Column Magazine]
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 conditions on the Iran nuclear deal – that were outlined in a speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 2018 – have merits; particularly his condition that “Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.”
If Iranian influence on the Iraqi militias is allowed to be continued, they would again be encouraged to marginalize and torture the Sunni Arab population, whose suffering would then become the rallying point for the revival of ISIS or emergence of ISIS-like new group/s.
What’s more, if Iranian influence continues to prevail on the Iraqi Shia militias, the Shias – who are the followers of those schools of thoughts that are different from what these militias follow – will also come under attack from the Iran-backed Shia militias.
When the US was largely withdrawing its forces in Iraq, it left an Iraq that was sectarian and chaotic. The Sunni population – specifically of Arab ethnicity – had to face widespread torture from the hardliner sectarian elements across Iraq.
Before the emergence of ISIS, the continuous protests by the Sunni Arabs in Iraq’s Anbar province (including in Fallujah) and the breakout of armed clashes every now and then between Sunni Arab protesters and security forces — increasingly demonstrated the frustration of the Sunni Arab population, as they were being neglected by the sectarian regime in Bagdad and were being tortured by some sectarian elements in the Iraqi army and the Iran-backed Shia militias.
After the rise of ISIS, a substantial portion of the Iraq’s Sunni Arab population – who were extremely frustrated due to torture by the Shia militias and the sectarian Iraqi army personnel – had either directly joined ISIS after embracing its ideology or at least cooperated with ISIS over many issues.
Hence, the suffering of the Sunni Arab tribes at the hands of the sectarian Iraqi regime (under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki), the sectarian elements in the army and the Iran-backed Shia militias pushed many Iraqi Sunnis (of Arab ethnicity) to align themselves with ISIS.
But once the administration of Haider al-Abadi (who succeeded Nouri al-Maliki) managed to bring the Sunni Arabs on board by marginally wining their trust, the situation took an about-turn. The Sunni Arabs joined the US, the Iraqi army, the Kurds (the other Sunni ethnic populations in Iraq), the Iran-backed Shia militias and the militias of Muqtada al-Sadr in order to fight ISIS.
The result was obvious. The presence of ISIS in Iraq was substantially diminished.
Now that ISIS’s presence has largely been reduced in Iraq, the Iran-backed Shia militias might again turn their guns back on the Sunni Arab population — a scenario that will pave the way for either the revival of ISIS or emergence of ISIS-like new groups, who will try to capitalize on the renewed sufferings of the Sunni Arabs.
Hence, it is important to curtail Iranian interference in Iraqi politics. It is important to reduce Iranian influence on the Shia militias and to disarm them so that they can cause no harm not only to the Sunni Arabs, but also the Shias from those schools of thoughts that are different from what these militias follow.
It thus appears that the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s condition of “Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias” is something that should be taken seriously by the governments which are stakeholders (including Iraq), who then should put pressure on Iran.
Bahauddin Foizee is a geopolitical analyst and an international affairs columnist, with a major focus on the overlapping Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific/Indian-Ocean mega-regions and the Middle East.