By Derek H. Davis, J.D., Ph.D.
Iraq is now engaged in a full-blown civil war pitting Sunnis and Shiites battling for control of the nation. The capital city of Baghdad is now dominated by the Shiite majority, much to the chagrin of disaffected Sunnis (who shaped Saddam Hussein’s regime), but the militant Sunni organization ISIS ( the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Iraq and Syria-based Sunni Muslim extremist group) took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, on Tuesday, June 10. ISIS has taken over the airport, schools and government buildings, and has robbed the banks of Mosul to fund its operations. Roughly 10% of the 1.5 million population of Mosul, including approximately 1000 Christians, are now in flight from Mosul, fleeing mostly to nearby Kurdish communities. ISIS now seemingly has its sight set on the capture of other Sunni-dominated cities in Iraq. ISIS and most Sunnis generally seek to establish a strict Islamic state over all of Iraq, with Sharia law rigidly enforced, effectively ending the democratic order the United States sought to install with its ten-year presence in the country. The United States is now considering its options as to how to stabilize Iraq; at stake is the investment America made in establishing a lasting democracy in Iraq.
A third force in the struggle, Iraq’s Kurdish minority, which enjoys strong autonomy in northern Iraq, is caught in the middle. It is now dealing with thousands of refugees from nearby Mosul and fears a Sunni takeover of Iraq, but is simultaneously unhappy with the current Shiite-led central government. Many Kurds favor complete secession from Iraq, a result most Iraqi Arabs do not favor. If the Kurdish communities are to remain a part of Iraq, most Kurds prefer some kind of democratic state with shared power, but they are essentially helpless as the more powerful Sunni and Shiite factions battle for government control.
According to World Watch Monitor, The Iraqi Parliament has declared a State of Emergency. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, “called for the Iraqi people to volunteer, and take up arms to defend the country. He also called on international organizations to support Iraq in maintaining peace, and on neighbouring countries to protect their boundaries, and not let ‘terrorists’ enter Iraq.”
Patrick Cockburn, writing for The Independent on Wednesday, June 11, remarked: “It is not just in Iraq that the balance of power is changing. The Iraq-Syrian border no longer exists for most practical purposes. In Syria ISIS forces will become vastly more powerful because the movement can draw on fighters, weapons and money from its newly conquered territories in Iraq. The rest of the Syrian military opposition to President Bashar al-Assad will find it difficult to compete on the battlefield with ISIS if it manages to consolidate its recent victories.”
All of this highlights not only the instability of Iraq, but the instability that the civil war there creates for the entire Middle East. Notions of a secular state with shared power among competing political and religious groups was part of the intended solution installed by America in its reconstruction of Iraq, but the current conflict proves that the ancient ideal of a political order aligned with divine interests, indeed a religious state, does not die easily. The separation of religion and state has helped to bring peace and order to many nations, but whether it will ever take hold in Islamic states is a difficult question to answer.