Iraq has lost its last remaining shreds of national unity as the war against ISIS further fractures the country along ethnic and sectarian lines.
In August, Iraq’s current Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, took over leadership of the country. Seen as a potential reformer and an inclusive figure by the standards of the country’s politics, the US believed that Abadi could have helped restore Iraq’s national unity in fact of the ISIS assault.
That has not happened so far and Abadi’s attempts to unite Iraq have largely been ignored. According to Tim Arango of The New York Times, Abadi ordered Iraq’s military and its allied Shiite militias to fly the Iraqi national flag instead of Shiite religious banners. Military commanders and soldiers have not heeded the order.
“At the V.I.P. checkpoint to the Green Zone, the government enclave in Baghdad, a soldier explained recently that when the flag order was handed down, people chose their faith over their commander in chief,” the Times report explained. “There were no Iraqi flags at the checkpoint, only the black-and-green flags of Imam Hussein, the revered Shiite martyr.”
The flying of sectarian flags against a direct decree of the country’s Prime Minister underscores how deeply divided Iraq currently is.
In the North, Iraqi Kurdistan proudly flies the Kurdish flag as the Peshmerga continue to be the most effective force on the ground at countering ISIS and enforcing stability.
And in the vast majority of western Iraq, ISIS’s black banners continue to fly despite US-led coalition airstrikes and attempts by the Iraqi Security Forces and Shiite militias to retake lost ground.
Meanwhile, those Shiite and government forces battling ISIS themselves seem to have little interest now in preserving any semblance of a unifying Iraqi national identity.
“The secondary identities — cultural, religious, our ethnicity — have prevailed,” Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s former national security adviser, told The New York Times. “We all went to our little corners. Over the last decade, we have been looking for a new identity.”
The constant focus on belonging to a confessional group, without any vision for a greater national Iraq, is already starting to strain the cobbled together alliance of militias, the remnants of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
Already, Kurds and Shiite, nominal allies against ISIS, have nearly come to blows after jointly retaking a region over who should administer the area and whether internally displaced Sunnis should be allowed to return to their homes.
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