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Research Report

Iraqi imbroglio: the Islamic State and beyond A brief analysis of the 2014 political-security crisis: A brief analysis of the 2014 political-security crisis

Erwin van Veen
Nick Grinstead
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2014
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 30

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 2-4)
  2. (pp. 5-5)
  3. (pp. 6-6)
  4. (pp. 7-7)

    The initial shock of the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul and the cruelties it has been committing has faded. What remains is repulsion for the extremely exclusionary and violent nature of the polity it seeks to establish, and bewilderment as to how the present situation could have come about with such speed. The resulting sense of crisis has caused news and diplomatic reporting to focus strongly on the Islamic State. It has also triggered one-dimensional international action that chiefly focuses on a military response to halt the Islamic State’s advance.

    However, the Islamic State (IS) is, in many ways, ‘only’...

  5. (pp. 8-11)

    Western Iraq is currently ablaze in an insurgency that pits mostly Sunni-supported groups² with strong elements of Saddam Hussein’s former Ba’ath regime against Iraq’s Shi’a-dominated government and its associated militias. The IS currently is the most powerful of these Sunni groups.³ This insurgency takes its place in a broader panorama of conflict between groups that enjoy either Sunni or Shi’a support in places such as Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.⁴ This tends to give the impression of a confrontation in the Middle East between Sunni and Shi’a under the presumed sponsorship of Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shi’a). Section 3...

  6. (pp. 12-19)

    To understand the origins of the security situation discussed above, one needs to examine how power has operated in Iraq since its inception as a modern state in 1932, when the country gained independence from its British mandate conferred by the League of Nations. An important feature of rule in Iraq since then is that it has typically been in the hands of a small Sunni elite coming from the country’s Sunni minority (today around 35% of the population compared to around 62% Shi’a). This started with the British ‘appointment’ of Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi as the first...

  7. (pp. 20-24)

    Even a cursory glance at the conflict’s regional dimensions multiplies its complexity significantly. A popular frame of reference is that of an existential Sunni–Shi’a conflict, courtesy of Jordan’s King Abdullah II 2004 metaphor of a Shi’a crescent stretching from Beirut to Tehran.45 Unsurprisingly, reality is much more nuanced than his slightly self-serving warning. At least three interlinked issues must be examined to understand the Iraqi conflict: the manner in which the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts (have) influence(d) each other; Iranian–Saudi rivalry in the context of major shifts in the region’s geopolitics; and the broader challenges to the legitimacy...

  8. (pp. 25-27)

    Halting the rise of the Islamic State and reversing some of its gains require addressing a deep sense of Sunni disenfranchisement. Lacking the organisation and resources of Iraq’s Kurds, Sunni grievances have manifested themselves through support for a range of armed groups that have created a cross-border shadow world between Iraq and Syria of violence, crime and radicalism. It can only be exposed and reduced by credibly showing Iraq’s Sunni minority that it has a stake in the country’s future.

    Ensuring that Iraq remains a single state adds another challenge: the need to address Kurdish grievances and aspirations. After a...

  9. (pp. 29-30)