The turn of events in Iraq is staggering but not unpredictable. What is even more staggering is that no one has been, is being or will be held accountable for it. No one should be surprised if there are elements within the U.S. establishment who are just about now feeling nostalgic about Saddam Hussein in various hues of rose.
With a new extremist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatening to overrun the deeply fractious country, there are clear signs that Washington is considering holding talks with Iran over the rapidly escalating crisis. If that s not staggering, what is? Quite sometime ago, I had partly foreshadowed the possibility of Iraq becoming a theological twin of Iran with the Shia elite in both countries finding common sectarian cause. I had drawn my inference from the fact that close to 70 percent of Iraq’s population is Shia. In fact, about 11% of the world Shia population lives in Iraq with its immediate neighbor Iran accounting for about 40% of the world Shia population. Iran is, of course, over 90% Shia Muslim. It is known that the close to 200 million total Shia Muslims around the world see Iran/Iraq as their center of religious gravity. I am presuming that while Washington’s movers and shakers were contemplating action in Iraq in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, they were mindful of these sectarian equations.
Under Hussein for close to three decades, Iraq witnessed an extraordinary situation where a minority Sunni strongman lorded over the majority Shia. The U.S. war disrupted that fundamentally, thereby giving the Shia majority their first opportunity in decades to establish their supremacy. It was natural that the new leadership saw Iran’s predominant Shia establishment as its potential benefactors. Of course, it is not my case that such equations are as straightforward as it may sound in this blog but there are clear religious affinities at work here.
Now with the U.S. out of Iraq and the rise of a powerful Sunni counter rising again, options have become limited and weirdly unthinkable until recently—the possibility of the U.S. initiating talks with Iran to save the grandly bloody sectarian mess.It is in this context that the reported sectarian massacre of some 1700 Shia members of the Iraqi security forces must be seen. This is an unambiguously sectarian bloodshed about which, sadly, not much can be done other than two immediate neighbors working things out. The notion that Washington can throw its weight behind the Iraqi government and rope in Iran at this stage can solve the problem is delusional. This is no more than sticking a bandage on millennial bloodletting.
Fears of Shiite reprisals against the massacre are not unfounded. They may or may not play out immediately but play out they will in some form or another. These are animosities so deep down in the region that they cannot be expected to be redressed by sending aircraft carriers. Doing nothing may sound like a shockingly cruel option but doing something half-baked is equally cruel. So there. In short, I have no clue what can be done other than just bemoan humanity’s sick fixation for violence as a means to solve problems.