The country of Iraq has descended into virtual civil war. A radical Sunni off-shoot of al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has overtaken a number of cities, including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. The goal of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, an Islamic state, in the region.
Iraq is comprised of 97% Muslims, with 65% being Shia and 35% Sunni. Under the current Iraqi government, the minority Sunnis claim discrimination and that the government is not being equitable with them. Worldwide, Sunnis far outnumber Shias. The rift between Sunnis and Shias dates back to the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has inflamed these sectarian tensions, claiming territory on behalf of Sunnis seeking a regional caliphate.
It's difficult to discuss the current unraveling of Iraq without addressing the United States' 8 year war in the country. Under the guise of toppling Saddam Hussein who was supposedly armed with WMDs, our interest in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, is because of oil. However, our quick withdrawal has exacerbated current events in the vacuum of leadership.
What's currently happening is that a proxy war is playing out in Iraq. On the one side you have the Shia-majority Iraqi government being backed by our geopolitical enemy Iran, who is supporting the Syrian Assad regime. On the other hand you have al Qaeda and the Sunnis, who are being supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
So far, the United States' response has been to encourage the Iraqi government to find a political solution. However, it's a bit naïve to assume that a sectarian battle that has waged since 632 AD will suddenly be solved because of President Obama's encouragement.
Instead, perhaps the United States should support more concrete solutions such as splitting Iraq into three states between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. We also have to learn to work with these groups so we don’t make enemies of them.
The United States finds itself in the unfortunate position of having to ask whether our military's sacrifices in Iraq were worth it. We must also consider not making the same mistake in future years with our withdrawal from Afghanistan.
We must articulate our values, define our goal(s) in the region and strive to achieve them. Somewhere on the scale of “war” to “capitulation” there has to be a place where we can find stability and partnership, rather than violence and terror.
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