Magazine article Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Iraq's Second Sunni Insurgency

Magazine article Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Iraq's Second Sunni Insurgency

Article excerpt

THE STATE OF IRAQ IN 2014 REPRESENTS A DRAMATIC REVERSAL WHEN compared with four years earlier. National elections in March 2010 took place during a period when the Sunni insurgency, having reached its peak in 2006, was at a low ebb, and key political leaders were making an effort to mold a nationally-unifying coalition. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had resisted Iranian efforts to form a united Shia bloc. He led his own State of Law Coalition (SLC), a predominately Shia Islamist bloc with substantial secular elements. It competed against both the Iranianaligned Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the Iraqi National Movement, or Iraqiya coalition, a mixture of Sunnis and secular Shia nominally headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi. Voters endorsed the most non-sectarian options-Iraqiya came in first with 91 seats, Maliki's SLC a narrow second with 89, and the INA farther behind, with 70.

The situation today is quite different. By the beginning of 2014, a new insurgency had engulfed Sunni Iraq. With the nation's security services floundering and Iran-backed Shia militias playing an increasing role, the national elections of April 30 took place in the worst environment possible. Unsurprisingly, the voting was overwhelmingly sectarian: Shia Islamists had an outright majority for the first time-moving from 159 of 325 seats in 2010 to 181 of 328 in 2014. Losses by secular Shia blocs and a decline in Sunni votes meant a corresponding decline in those blocs from 101 seats in 2010 to 76 in 2014. (There had been 10 Sunni Arab seats outside Iraqiya in 2010.) To a stalemate in Anbar was added the fall of Mosul, Iraq's largest Sunni-majority city in the northwestern province of Ninawa, in early June 2014, at the hands of the jihadist Islamic State and a mix of nationalist insurgent groups. In response, Shia Iraq transformed into a garrison state, with civilian leaders wearing uniforms. Shia militias openly mobilized to face the Sunni challenge, taking over the role of official security in many areas. How did things go so wrong?

Broadly speaking, Iraq's Second Sunni Insurgency is the result of the interplay of two dynamics. On the one hand were expansive Sunni demands based on legitimate grievances relating to illegal arrests and mistreatment by the legal system. Sunnis also deluded themselves with excessive expectations about Sunni power in the new Iraq. On the other hand, the inability or unwillingness of the Shia-dominated political system to find a middle ground on Sunni aspirations exacerbated matters. This started with the formation of the 2010 government itself; unwilling to allow power to slip into the hands of Allawi's base-which included many unreconstructed Baathists, both Shia and Sunni, and Sunni Islamists-the Shia Islamist blocs merged into the National Alliance (NA). Maliki's own SLC later took on more sectarian elements, in particular the Badr Organization, a militia proxy of Iran. Allawi's base was wrong in expecting to hold power-Shia Islamist blocs had 159 combined seats in parliament compared with 101 for the Sunni Arabsecular Shia factions, with the remainder of the 325 seats mostly held by Kurds, who allied with the Shia because they considered the Sunni driven by ethnic nationalism. But the Sunnis were right in concluding they had lost out, as Maliki and his Shia Islamist allies controlled all key security posts and the vital energy sector.

This paper charts efforts by Iraq's Sunni Arabs to achieve what they view as their legitimate place in Iraq through six sections. The first two sections relate to a failure of politics: the government's suppression of Sunni efforts to form autonomous regions through a legal process in late 2011 and the political system's failure to accommodate legitimate Sunni demands during the early stage of the protest movement, which began in December 2012 and ran through December 2013. In regard to the former, Shia leaders may have had legitimate concerns about the Sunni region agenda. …

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