Iraq Crisis: War of Sects

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It all started on June 10th 2014 when the ISIS -an al-Qaeda inspired group- seized Mosul, Iraq`s second largest city and the province of Ninevah sending shockwaves around the world.


  • They were also moving rapidly south towards Baghdad exploiting the outrage of Sunni discontent with Shia Prime Minister Nuri-al-Maliki`s government .
  • It was then that the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency in Iraq.  
  • Maliki leads a Shia (majority sect in Iraq) dominated government and has often been criticized for not including rival Sunni leaders in the government.

The Invaders (ISIS/ISIL)

  • ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) or ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is a Sunni Jihadist group formed in 2013.
  • It is led by inspirational and resourceful commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • The militia with a strength of about 3000 to 5000 fighters, is now surpassing al-Qaeda to emerge as the world`s most dangerous jihadist group.
  • It is also expanding in Syria where it is fighting the regime of Bashar Assad.
  • Earlier this year it captured two Sunni cities Fallujah and Ramadi in western Iraq.

A Comparison with al-Qaida

  • In comparison to al Qaeda it is much more conventional fighting force which captures whole cities with brutal forces.
  • Though technically both the groups have the same goal: Establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, governed by Sharia.

The Impact

  • The west and much of the democratic secular world is threatened by its dramatic rise.
  • With most of Iraq now under its control, the ISIS posed a threat to the entire region.
  • It has also made ISIS the most cash rich militant group in the world.
  • Before the capture of Mosul it had cash and assets worth $900m which rose to $2bn afterwards.
  • Now its coffers are brimming over with cash and arsenal - thanks to the territorial and logistical gains of war.

Future Tense??

  • The Iraq War by US itself and its poor execution destabilized the region and facilitated greater Sunni-Shia conflict within Iraq. 
  • The rise of ISIS pose a credible and direct threat not only to the stability of the middle east and the oil-based world economy at large, but also to the Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and India with 18000 Indians in Iraq and around 100 including nurses under ISIS hostage. 

The Roadmap Ahead

  • Washington with UN should be prepared to undertake limited air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria. 
  • Given that several hundred European and even some US passport holders have joined ISIS, these preparations should be taken now. 
  • The United States and the UN should not undertake military action lightly and should be wary of unintended consequences. 
  • Same goes for India, to save its national, it should try all diplomatic means possible, but if it doesn’t work, India should be ready to use its Military might along with other countries to save its nationals and negate the possible future threat (as in the words of ISIS itself; “We have Plans for India”) of terrorism in South Asia. 
  • It is quite clear that sectarian war of Sunni-Shia may swiftly engulf the whole Muslim world and could lead to a very long war spanning many countries.
  • Thus, the advent of ISIS is required to be curtailed with utmost urgency lest the large swaths of territory controlled by it does not become a springboard for terrorist attack on American and Indian interests.

Possible steps to curb this menace?

  • Weaken ISIS to prevent it from controlling substantial territory in Iraq from which it can become a threat to the region, South Asia, or the US by containing support bases such as Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
  • Reduce threats of growing sectarian conflict sparking a wider regional war.
  • Safeguard reliable and capable partners such as Jordan, Turkey, and the Kurdistan Regional Government. 
  • India could even rely on Iran as ISIS poses a direct threat to Shia majority Iran.
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