Iraq’s development suffers as ISIS takes control

Iraq’s development suffers as ISIS takes control

In December 2013 insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda captured key strategic cities in Iraq’s largest province, Anbar. Iraqi development is certain to suffer from it.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni jihadist group, has intensified its onslaught in Iraq since it was created in April 2013. Within this short period it has become the most serious threat to the Maliki administration since US troops left in 2011.

The upsurge of violence began last month when Iraqi troops broke up a protest camp in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. The camp, which had been active for a year, was established by Sunnis as a platform to air their grievances against the Shia-dominated government. Since Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled by US-led forces in 2005, the country’s Sunni minority have often spoken out against marginalization and even domination by the central government. The forced dispersion of the Ramadi protest was met with a swift violent response.

In an attempt to quell the spiralling violence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered his troops to leave the city. This decision instead fuelled the insurgency. Militants stormed the streets of Ramadi, taking over police stations and freeing prisoners, thereby entrenching themselves in the city. Maliki attempted to reverse his decision the very next day. However, ISIS fighters had already consolidated their command and Iraqi troops have been unable to regain the city.

Fallujah, a city in Anbar close to the Syrian border, is also now under the control of ISIS rebels. Members of ISIS are able to pass easily through the porous border from Syria and fuel insurgent activities within Iraq. Some anti-government groups have sided with the Sunni militants and facilitated their current occupation. Other residents have fled. Despite the shelling of the city by security forces, Maliki has asked residents to return and to help remove ISIS rebels.

The US, a key security partner to Baghdad despite removing its military presence, has responded with an acceleration of arms sales. Following talks between US Vice President Joe Biden and Maliki, the US will dispatch an unplanned contingency of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to the troubled state.

Specifically, the US will send 10 Scan Eagle UAVs, 48 Raven surveillance UAVs, as well as additional Hellfire missiles in coming months. Biden has expressed his support to the Iraqi Prime Minister and the fight against terrorism, but has maintained that the US will not send troops. Since 2005, the US has provided more than $14 billion in arms.

Tehran has also offered its assistance in providing weapons, should the Maliki administration request it. However, many fear that the acceptance of this offer from the Shia state will further fuel tension with Sunni militants.

With growing import of weapons and additional military attacks, violence in Anbar will almost certainly intensify rather than subside. Sunni militants are reacting against what they claim to be oppression and domination. Removing their protest camp and platform caused an extreme reaction, therefore increasing military pressure is more likely to consolidate the resolve of the insurgents and spur on hostility rather than quell it.

The issue is deeply rooted in the sectarian structure of the state and the domination of one group over the other. Unless this root problem is addressed, the grievance of Sunnis will continue, and the threat of violence will not go away, even if temporarily squashed. Representation, inclusion and ultimately equality will make strides in resolving this conflict, while the increase in violence and arms will continue to spur it on.

About Author

Elizabeth Matsangou

Elizabeth works as International Account Manager for an environmental technologies company and has previously worked for a political consultancy company in Westminster and for Intelligence Squared, a forum for live debates. She received a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Essex and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.