8 Jul 2014

IRAQ CRISIS and ISIS : An Analysis !

Another crisis in West Asia has grabbed the news space. ISIS-the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, a jihadi grouping affiliated to al-Qaeda has captured many cities of Iraq like Mosul, Tikrit, and Tal Afar etc. near the Syrian border. ISIS controls the Sunni-dominated provinces of the west and north, while Nouri al-Maliki -led Shia government in Baghdad ruling only the primarily Shia territories southwards from Baghdad to Basrah.


What is ISIS?

ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. The final "S" in the acronym ISIS stems from the Arabic word "al-Sham". This can mean the Levant, Syria or even Damascus. The group has been operating independently of other jihadist groups in Syria such as the al-Nusra Front. Initially, the group got major funding from wealthy individuals in Gulf Arab states, particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who supported its fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
Since 2012, it has been functioning as a militia organised on military lines rather than as a terrorist organisation. Instead of small acts of violence against soft targets for getting ransom, their cadres now launch strategic attacks to augment their food, weaponry and cash resources. These days it also earns a significant amount from the oil fields it controls in eastern Syria.

Few days ago, it declared a caliphate and ordered Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to their chief, in a spectacular bid to extend their authority. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has renamed itself simply the Islamic State (IS). This announcement marked the group’s ambition to wage a holy war and pose a direct challenge to central leadership of Al Qaeda.

A caliphate is an Islamic state, headed by a caliph who has governance over all Muslims and promotes Sharia law.

Origin of current sectarian war

U.S. led a military assault on Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime and destroyed infrastructure. In 2006 Mr. Nouri al-Maliki, from long oppressed Shia community, was brought into power. He immediately disbanded the Iraqi Army and prohibited Baath Party members, who were mostly civil servants, from the employment. Both of these institutions were dominated by Sunnis. Fearing further repression, Sunnis took the arm. 

During the eight-year rule, the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not deliver on reconciliation, security and prosperity. He favoured narrow and exclusivist agenda that aggravated the country’s sectarian and ideological divide.

Origin of the divide

The origin of this divide lies in the principal fault line of Shia and Sunni within Islam. The historic background of this split is rooted in the question of succession in Islam after Prophet Mohammad died in the year 632 AD. Both the groups consider the holy Quran to be the word of God but have different opinion on hadith. There was nothing religious about it at the beginning as it was a purely political dispute. The wounds of that split continue to bleed the community till today.

The great majority of Muslims are Sunnis - estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90% and they are a majority in most Muslim communities: in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, and most of the Arab world. Shia make up the majority of the citizen population in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain. They are also significant in Lebanon, Azerbaijan. Pakistan has the largest Sunni and second-largest Shia Muslim population in the world.

The irony in this ongoing conflict is that both the parties will push forward the same arguments to justify and Islamize their brutalities.

Why Iraqi army failed to restrain the ISIS?

Iraqi forces crumbled because poorly trained Shia element with low moral had to fight with the professional forces that were in the Iraqi Army.

Third Front: Seeking to rise on this opportunity

Taking the advantage of chaos due to ISIS attacks and the failure of the Iraqi Army to take a stand, Kurdish forces have applied their full energy to push for greater autonomy.

Who are Kurds?

Kurds are the world's largest ethno-linguistic group with their population 
estimated around 30 to 35 million. They are a traditionally nomadic people divided among modern states of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Armenia but united by a common mother tongue of Kurdish. Though most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, they have no affinity with the ISIS-led Sunni insurgency, and there are Christian, Jewish, and Shiite Kurdish minorities. As a multi-religious community, they are united by a historical connection to Kurdistan. They are fighting for an independent country.


The Kurds have had partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. Nationalist movements in the other Kurdish-populated countries (Turkey, Syria, Iran etc.) push for Kurdish regional autonomy or the creation of a sovereign state.

India’s concerns

     1. Security of its nationals: It is India’s immediate concern. Safe return of its nationals, who are scattered and many of whom stranded in conflict zones too, is a great challenge. Though majority (tens of thousands) of Indian are staying in southern Iraq which is not affected by the conflict right now and very few are stranded in conflict zone of north, any spillover effect of this war may aggravate the situation badly. In 2004, when the three Indian drivers were kidnapped, the government had sent a team of diplomats to negotiate their release. Since at that time Iraq was under U.S. occupation and also the kidnappers used to take people hostages for ransom to augment their resources to fight the Americans, it was easy to deal with. Now, the problem is quite big.  ISIS is fighting on jihadist agenda with a bigger agenda.
     2. Oil prices:  India’s energy security is under threat. Majority of oil fields are in Southern Iraq but the danger of an escalation of war is real if Iran(Which is a Shia dominated country), in supporting the Shia-dominated south, drags itself in the crisis and  create a spiral of tensions with rival Saudi Arabia( which is a Sunni dominated country). Long wars in the region could disrupt supplies and impact India’s economy badly.

     3.Foreign Exchange: Nearly seven million Indians now live and work in the Gulf countries and WANA, and they are sending India about $30 billion in remittances. With the escalation of the war in this region, they may have to leave to home country. On the one hand this will impact Balance of payment issue; on the other this will increase pressure on employment in the already slow moving economy of India.
Global Concern
Dangerous Sectarian War: Since whole region of West Asia and North Africa is now divided on sectarian line. Entry of any foreign power (of this region only like Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. not U.S., Russia etc.) in Iraq may create a spiral. Other regions (like Asia) of the world too may have to deal with such sectarian conflict because this division is present globally. The political Islam or Islamism may take lethal form.

Changing global equations: Since 2012, Iraq has been the second highest producer of crude oil in the OPEC cartel. Iran, which is a Shia dominated country, is closely working with Shia govt. of Iraq and its relation with the U.S. is becoming normal. Strengthening position of Iran and Iraq in the region is threat to dominance of Saudi Arabia. So, Saudi Arabia will try to capture the market which Iraq may not serve due to less production of oil. It will also try to negotiate on its own terms and seek higher price in this situation. The dominance of Saudi Arabia and its upper hand in price negotiation will not be likened by U.S. which will try to make balance in this region.
Threat to global economic revival plans: Since global energy security is also linked with this region, it may impact global economic revival plans.
Thus the impact of this turbulence will be felt well beyond the West Asia and North Africa.

What India can do?

After the 9/11 wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), India has not followed its independent policy in the matters of Middle East. On matters of conflict in Iraq, Syria, Libya etc. the government has chosen to follow Russia and China’s stand at the United Nations and also remained intimidated by the U.S. and Europe on some issues.

With the finding of shale oil and gas in the U.S., the very reason of its serious engagement in this region will be diluted in long term.
India cannot afford to ignore the events taking place in its backyard since stakes are high. It occupies a very high place in these countries due to civilizational link. The goodwill has only been enhanced by the diligent and disciplined Indian expatriate.

India can also engage with China, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, Bangladesh etc. that have such high stakes in regional stability. India should take the lead to consult with Saudi Arabia and Iran and persuade them to give up the sectarian approaches and promote dialogue and confidence-building measures.

What is your view on ISIS? How it came into existence so strongly all of a sudden? What are the reasons?

How peace and stability in middle-east, gulf is very much important for India? What India should do for greater regional stability?

How India can become a true world leader?

(Written by Sujit Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Bhubaneshwar)



  1. Really excellent keep sharing in the future too thanks

    1. Thanks for appreciation...plz keep on supporting the cause.

  2. Simple and to the point. Gave a clear insight of not just the present crisis, but also its root and its impact in India. Worth reading. Thank You.

    1. Thanks for encouragement Ganesh...plz keep on supporting the cause.


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