Iraq is in bad shape right now. ISIS is the closest thing to pure evil you can find right now in a large organization, and it has taken nominal control of large swaths of Iraq. Its Syria breeding ground offers it strategic depth, confirming some of the worst fears voiced as Syria fell into civil war. Now there is little the world can do but watch the civil war spread to Iraq.
First, start by reading this piece about the different groups involved. Then come back. Any sensible person can see there is a grand total of one group mentioned worth having hope about: the Sunni tribes. They are looking for peace and prosperity in the face of oppression from the man who would be the Shia Saddam Hussein over Iraq. Unfortunately, they have allowed some very unsavory groups to join this fight, with “ISIS” being the most prominent and thus becoming the catch-all term in the media for the various Sunni extremist groups involved. However, ISIS the group is also the most brutal and it is worth keeping separate from other Sunni extremist groups. Which in itself is a good indicator of how bad things are.
Here is what should happen. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki should immediately resign. His regime has been a cancer eating Iraq from the inside. A new government in Baghdad should embrace the Sunni tribes, offering greater autonomy and representation – also oil revenue – in exchange for ending their rebellion against the corrupt Maliki regime and turning on ISIS and other extremists. The new Iraqi government should also take measures against Shia extremists, reducing the influence of Iran that Maliki fostered and keeping Shia groups away from Sunni tribal regions before massacres occur. The Kurdish government should get involved in removing ISIS and foreign extremists, and should probably be allowed to keep Kirkuk if they promise to protect the rights of all the groups of people living there. In Syria Assad should stop allowing ISIS to set up its own draconian Fundamentalist Islamic state. Also Assad should leave Syria and a new government should be appointed comprising representatives from all non-extremist groups and given a mandate to restore and rebuild the country after jointly kicking out all the extremists from ISIS and Iran/Hezbollah. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Here is what will probably happen. Maliki will double down on all the things that led Iraq to this tragic situation. The coming Iraqi civil war will spill rivers of blood and the treasure of Iran and groups in the Gulf states. The Kurds will stand aside unless opportunity presents itself to secure something it wants for itself. The rest of the world will not intervene because there are no easy options to do anything useful militarily. However, the US will be active behind the scene, talking with Sunni tribal leaders, the Kurds, and the Iraqi government, as has been happening. However, that is only useful if someone is willing to listen. The Kurds know what they are doing, the Sunnis have been driven to desperation by Maliki, and Maliki has the backing of Iran and Shiites terrified by the prospect of ISIS. Change needs to happen in Baghdad, and is anyone going to bet on Maliki being the one to start it? So, civil war.
There is a chance, though. Other leaders in Iraq could replace Maliki themselves, joining together to form a new government. This has been suggested and discussed for months, and has gained traction with US calls for a new Iraqi government being a pre-condition to US involvement in Iraq’s current crisis. Will leaders emerge in Iraq able to replace Maliki? If so, it needs to happen quickly. Maliki will not go willingly unless he sees refusal to go as certain destruction. With Shia militia pouring towards the front lines by the tens of thousands, it is extremely unlikely the Sunni rebellion will even make it to Baghdad, much less take it over. Once the advance crests, most of America’s ability to influence political change in Baghdad will dissipate along with the fear of an imminent advance into the city by brutal Sunni extremists. Will Iraq’s leaders act quickly enough? One must hope so, for it is Iraq’s best hope for avoiding a fate nearly as grim as Syria’s.