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Iraq Between Conflict and Coexistence

Yasir Ali Mirza for BeyondHeadlines

After a decade, Iraq is struggling between conflict and coexistence. The land of ancient Mesopotamian Civilisation has been paying the price of having a vast reserve of petroleum oil beneath its feet. Indeed, from the very beginning it has been a point of belligerence between different rival empires such as Omayyads, Abbasids, Ottomans, Mongols, Persians and others. On April 9, 2003, when the world was watching on their television sets with the help of ‘embedded journalists’ as U.S. Marines toppling the bronze statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdous Square, symbolically ending the Ba’ath reign of terror it was certainly a continuance of that geopolitical contestation.


The toppling of that statue symbolized the removal of the ruthless dictator who had dominated Iraq in particular and West Asia in general. There has been a wider implication of US invasion codenamed ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ which was started on March 20, 2003 with the staggering fire power of US military machine. After defying the opinion and categorical opposition of international community US hawks went alone under the ‘Coalition of Willing.’ US President George W. Bush and his neoconservative cabal comprising of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice etc, manipulated the theory of Weapons of Mass Destruction for war mobilisation which later proved as sheer lie. It is an open secret that the whole war had been waged for nothing but oil on the pretext of chemical weapons as well as Saddam-Al Qaeda nexus. Iraq had paid the price for having oil to the energy-hungry capitalist economy of the West.

Ten years after, there had been a wider implication of US-led invasion on the region of overthrowing its long time and closest ally Saddam Hussein. The beleaguered nation of Iraq still grapples with the legacy of war. The decades of crippling sanctions and war-torn economy are haunting over Iraq today which happens to be a trailblazer of the Arab world. The violence and insurgency are still a common phenomenon in Iraq. The sectarian strife and ethnic division has become as rampant as the killings and bombings are frequent, although not more than few years back when the upsurge of violence was at its peak. And, the Syrian quagmire much added fuel to this fire. It would be very hard to mend the cleavages in near future.

The Sunni minority hasn’t come out of their collective stigma and they are in no position to accept the Shi’ite dominated political reality. The oil-rich Gulf Arab states and exponents of hardline Islamic ideology are striving hard to give a new lease of life to the bêtes noires of Shia-dominated dispensation in Baghdad.  Inevitably, into this mess, they are lynching Iran for no reasons, after creating the hoax of a ‘Shi’ite Crescent’ in the region which would begin from Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil-rich Shi’ite dominated Al Hasa province. Arguably, the Iranian influence in Iraq must be understood in the background of their centuries old historical relationship and social cohesion and the contemporary ideological unanimity. All the present Islamist organizations which are at the helm of power in Iraq had a long strategic and ideological linkage with Iran including Prime Minister Nouri Kamil al Maliki’s Hizbud’ Dawat’al Islamiyah. They took shelter in Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent outbreak of Iran-Iraq war and the Saddam’s purge to his political opponents.

Since the ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ began with ‘shock and awe’ airstrikes, this major Arab country which is struggling for survival and remains a challenge before the international community because the UN became a mute spectator as if it has been playing similarly as a toothless body of its earlier avatar of League of Nations. Nevertheless, it took challenges head on and creeping towards a better end. The whole traumatized populace is thriving themselves up in reconstruction of the country despite huge constraints looking for a new dawn of peace and prosperity. In this effort of rejuvenation the Third World countries are playing a positive role by engaging themselves in infrastructure development in war devastated nation.

The appraisal of war can be seen in figures given by researchers. By the time the complete withdrawal of US military from Iraq in December 2011, according to The Lancet, a reputed journal, at least 116,000 Iraqi civilians and 4,800 coalition troops have been killed after the onslaught in 2003. In this Iraqi adventure about $3 trillion could be the eventual cost which was levied on the coffers of American people. Many top Iraqi leaders were assassinated in bomb blasts and shootouts.  Ayatollah Baqir al Hakim, the scion of reputed Al Hakim family and founder of Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and its armed wing Badr Brigade, was killed in a car bomb blast outside the Imam Ali shrine in the holy city of Najaf. The Interim Governing Council member Izzedine Salim, the other leader of Al Da’wa and an intellectual was also killed in Baghdad. The Iraqi damage could not be ascertained as there would have been worth of billions of billions plundered and devastated. The Baghdad museum of ancient artefacts was one of them.

Despite sectarian clashes which led to the emotional outburst of people the ulemas played a very conscientious role as they were instrumental in regressing the aroused public indignation. Most revered Shia cleric of Iraq and Marja-i taqlid (Source of Emulation) Grand Ayatollah Syed Ali Sistani’s far-sighted actions were noteworthy in downgrading the spiral rounds of blood shedding. Across the border in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei often stressed on shunning out the violence in Iraq. The only survived son of Ayatollah Sadiq Al Sadr and nephew of renowned intellectual and founder of Al Da’wa Party Ayatollah Baqir Al Sadr, and leader of Sadrist Trend and Mahdi Army chief, young Sayyid Moqtada Al Sadr, whose militia fought US troops two times in 2004, is now emerging as a new pragmatist leader on the horizon of Iraqi politics. Last year he had return from holy city of Qom in Iran after pursuing higher religious training from Hawza-i Ilmiyyah (Religious Seminary). He envisages a policy of nationalistic and united Iraq in which all the sectarian and ethnic persuasions can be live side by side. Recently he visited a church in central Baghdad where a bomb attack had occurred and reassured the minority Christian citizens that this country is as of theirs as it has belonged to the Muslims.

After a vicious cycle of unabated violence perpetrated either by Americans & Co. or terrorists, Iraq seems heralding a new era of peace and stability as people have their voice to be raised in a nascent democracy in the post-US occupation. Now the role of a civil society has become crucial in strengthening the democracy of beleaguered Iraq. But the time will prove this anticipation in near future. The present Barack Obama administration should take the boomeranged lessons of Iraq war for pulling out from Afghanistan and not to bully any country on false charges, going alone for invasion despite domestic and international opinion. Iran is too far to be imagined.

(The writer is a Research Scholar at Centre for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and recently returned back from Iraq.)


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