The forthcoming liberation of Tal Afar from Daesh marks a significant turning point for Iraq as the war against the terrorist group took precious blood, sweat, tears and resources from the country over the past three years.
But as politicians look ahead towards the future, important lessons need to be taken into account to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. Analysts have already sounded the alarm that the routing out of extremist groups such as Daesh and Al Qaida are only cosmetic victories and the real battle lies in eliminating the root causes of terrorism.One does not need to delve that far back in Iraq’s history to learn that Sunni disenfranchisement in the country after the US-led invasion which toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussain was one of the main incubators of extremism. Baathist institutions, which ran the country for decades, were eliminated overnight causing deep resentment among Iraq’s Sunni population.
As Sunnis felt shunned by the new pro-Iranian leadership in the country, they were desperate for anyone to air their grievances.
When no one listened and Daesh emerged in 2014, the Iraqi army, largely made up by Sunni tribe members, simply did not have the willpower to confront the terrorist group when it overran the cities. The terrorist group, seemingly overnight, took over large swathes of Iraqi lands, overrunning major cities like Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi.
Iraqi Sunnis did not feel loyalty to their government which was seemingly punishing them for Saddam’s past policies. As a result, the army largely disintegrated in the face of Daesh’s flash offensive.
They mistakenly thought that, since no one else cared about their plight, maybe Daesh could restore some of their lost Sunni power. However, what emerged later, a so-called ‘caliphate’ under so-called Islamic law, quickly made them regret their choices.
Iraqi Sunnis paid the price twice over, as they were both brutalised by Daesh under their draconian way of life and became the victims of revenge killings by Shiite militias who saw them as conspirators. Now, more than ever, this disaffected community needs to be nurtured and reintroduced into Iraq’s mainstream establishment. Gulf countries can play an important role in making this happen by coaxing Iraqis back to the Arab fold and away from Iran. At the end of the day, whether Sunni or Shiite, Iraqis are overwhelmingly Arab and need their leadership to advance the Arab agenda, not a Persian one.