Deep-seated longings of unity must have surely been kindled in the Arab World as fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) smashed the line drawn by colonial powers between Iraq and Syria.
The razing of the border posts of al Qasim on the Syrian side and Abu Kamal on the Iraqi side on a strategic supply route has undoubtedly given ISIS fighters a great opportunity to play on emotions. Led by Abu Bakr al Bagdadi, the ISIS is opposed by most powers in the region, mainly for its ‘puritanical’ sectarianism, violence- driven code, and most of all, for its unpredictability and huge potential to throw the entire region into turmoil.
It would be needless to start to count the crimes the “Sunni” ISIS has committed to further its sectarian and political agenda. The ISIS is, as the Economist put it, “too violent for mainstream Syria’s rebels and too extreme for al Qaeda.” Reportedly, the ISIS has 11,000 fighters – six thousand in Iraq, 3000 to 5000 in Syria with one thousand Chechen rebels. But it also picks up fighters on its way.
Its capture of Mosul on June 10 was a historic moment, and it is forging ahead, with Fallujah already in its hands for the past six months. The ISIS is making strong emotional appeals of victory to the 70 per cent Sunnis of Syria and the 20 per cent in Iraq (excluding Sunni Kurds). It has seized huge quantities of armament in the cities it has taken over, the haul including six Black Hawk helicopters, 500 billion dinars and other implements of war from the fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
In spite of their fighting prowess and glamour, the ISIS fighters cannot hold on for long, because of their terror tactics. They are bound to retreat to some safe areas in the Sunni-dominated al Anbar province. Here we do not aspire for the victory of the “Sunni” ISIS or their allies but merely want to underscore the point that the sectarian policies of al-Maliki’s “Shiite” rule have brought the whole region to the brink of ruin.
One must squarely blame the sectarianism and ruthlessness of the Noori al Maliki regime, itself installed by the CIA and supported by the regional Shiite powerhouse, Iran. The rise of the ISIS is nothing but a clash of sectarianisms. Noori al Maliki has been, as the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, put it, very sectarian and extremely unwilling to share authority with the Sunnis. He has even gone to the extent of purging Sunnis from the government and the army.
Unfortunately, Al-Maliki has been supported by the Shiite clergy and Iran in his extreme anti Sunni sectarianism. He used live ammunition against peaceful protestors in Ramadi and Fallujah. Exclusion and brazen sectarianism do not make for normal and fair governance. Backing by the CIA, support of the clergy, and ever-present Iranian help (to the Maliki regime) has turned Iraq into a sectarian hell. It is because of this that terror groups like the ISIS have found it a fertile breeding ground.
The greatest wonder is reserved for Iran which has lost much of its universal Islamic revolutionary appeal because of pursuing and backing sectarian militarism in Syria, Iraq and even in Afghanistan. Its great military genius, al-Sulaiemani now stands fully exposed for collaborating with the Americans in providing vital military intelligence in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and also fighting in Syria. Iran could have played a much greater role in stabilizing the region instead of collaborating with the “Great Satan” (Shaitan-e-Buzurg) in pursuing sectarian policies in the region from Lebanon to Afghanistan.
Iran has rightly been clamoring for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But if the American-backed, tribal prince-doms are reluctant to grant democratic and political rights to their citizens, the issue cannot be resolved by ratcheting up sectarianism elsewhere. Even after doing much damage to sectarian unity, Iran is still capable of playing a powerful and meaningful role for unity and peace in the region, which has to include not supporting the fascist sectarian regimes of Iraq and Syria.
It is well known that all Sunnis are not associated with the ISIS. During the American occupation when the Shiites collaborated with America to bring about the downfall of Saddam and the capture of state power, many Sunni tribal chiefs and Sunni groups too supported America. The nearly one lakh fighters of the Sahwa Sunnis were important collaborators in the American war against al Qaeda. Again, needless to mention, that the Kurds, strongly supported by the Americans, too are Sunnis who have a long-standing agenda of a separate state and identity.
Al Maliki has sown very dangerous sectarian seeds with strong support from Iran, with the ISIS and its terror as one of the results. The Shia crescent from Iran to Lebanon is no longer viable on ideological or moral grounds. The Shia crescent cannot be maintained with military sectarianism. The best options are inclusiveness and Muslim brotherhood.
The Arab world or the Islamic world cannot be built on sectarianism or exclusion. Established and power-holding states like Syria and Iraq are more to blame along with their backers in Tehran than non state terror groups supported by the tribal Gulf rulers. America should not be blamed; the searchlight must be turned inwards. The rot lies in established powers in the region pursuing the “clash of sectarianisms.”