Treating the symptom while the disease festers

My latest at LobeLog is an extended interview with former State Department official Wayne White, talking about the big failure of the war against ISIS. Although ISIS itself is being driven back on almost every front, the underlying condition that facilitated its rise, the disenfranchisement felt by large numbers of Sunni Arabs in both Syria and Iraq, still remains with little hope of improvement:

LobeLog: Talk about why it’s important, even as IS is losing ground, that Sunni Arab resentment be addressed, and whether it can/will be addressed if and when IS is defeated.

Wayne White: Sunni Arab grievances against both the non-Sunni-dominated Syrian and Iraqi regimes, left unaddressed, will lead—whether under Syrian regime, Syrian Kurdish, Iraqi Kurdish, or Iraqi regime occupation—to further outbreaks of violence. Provocations in Syria relate to prolonged subordination to an Alawite-dominated regime and now likely occupation by a regime angered by years of bloody Sunni Arab resistance. Brutal Syrian treatment of real or suspected rebels or dissidents is well-documented. Likewise in Iraq: Shi‘a, who comprise not only the bulk of the Iraqi Army, but also of the notoriously abusive Shi‘a militias that are once again on the front lines, will likely mistreat Sunni Arabs under occupation. Atrocities will occur.

Moreover, in Syria especially, largely Sunni Arab cities and towns have been devastated in the fighting—repeatedly fought over and bombed indiscriminately. In Iraqi cities already badly damaged by fighting during the Sunni Arab insurgency of 2003-2009, as well as the ongoing aerial bombardment by the anti-IS coalition (especially given the Obama administration’s decision in April to relax the rules of engagement relating to air strikes), final re-conquest will mean, as in Syria, yet more destruction. In both Iraq and Syria, then, large infusions of funds and resources from Damascus and Baghdad would be needed to restore even a modicum of normalcy, but neither the two governments nor the Iraqi Kurds have such resources and are notoriously corrupt. So, judging from the past in Iraq particularly, Sunni Arabs can expect precious little assistance. This will breed deep resentment, unrest, and the emergence of at least some terrorism in one form or another.

Without sufficient context, the media has been characterizing anti-Shi‘a and anti-government terrorist bombings in Baghdad as the doings of IS. In fact, such terrorism is merely a seamless continuation of identical al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorism ongoing since 2003-2004. In terms of intensity, the volume of such attacks was worse during Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s abuses against Sunni Arabs in the pre-IS era. This form of murky retaliatory terrorism could emerge once again from an undercurrent of Sunni Arab anger.

Complicating this state of affairs, Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province is currently embroiled in its own political crisis as the dominant Iraqi Islamic Party is challenged by the Sunni Endowment, the agency responsible for managing Sunni places of worship, among other things. This political dysfunction within Iraq’s Sunni community is going to make it harder for that community to work peacefully to secure Sunni rights and privileges in Baghdad.



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