Iraq Is Not a Lost Cause
by Lukman Faily
This piece was originally published in Foreign Policy.
Iraq is under constant attack from the transnational terrorists of Daesh, who call themselves the Islamic State and seek to pull our country and region apart. The terrorists’ tactics reflect the age-old strategy of divide and conquer: They are aiming to exploit ethnosectarian strife, strip our state of its sovereignty, occupy as much of our country as they can, and slaughter or exile anyone who will not swear allegiance to their vile brand of jihadi Salafism.
Misguided comments — such as those last week by former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, suggesting that partition might be the only solution for Iraq — only embolden these brutal terrorists.
That is why it is so important that Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration continue to make clear that the United States is committed to the unity and territorial integrity of our country. To this end, Washington needs to continue its current practice of arming local and regional forces only through the government in Baghdad, and must insist on good faith implementation of last year’s oil revenue sharing agreement between the central government and the Kurdistan region.
Unity remains Iraq’s best hope to effectively defeat Daesh. The only way to drive it out of every inch of our country and liberate every segment of our society is to strengthen the national, regional, and local ties within our nation. This includes our security forces: Out of respect for the sovereignty of our country, and in order to ensure the cohesion of these disparate forces, it is essential that all foreign military support be provided through our national unity government in Baghdad. Any other course of action will inevitably lead to division, demoralization, and defeat.
Yes, the Kurdish Peshmerga are courageous. But their mission is to defend the Kurdistan region, not to liberate Anbar and other predominantly Sunni Arab provinces of our country. That is the responsibility of the Iraqi security forces — and no other force has the capability, mandate, or will to defeat terrorism across Iraq.
A significant proportion of foreign assistance that arrives in Baghdad is immediately delivered to the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, and there has not been a single instance where a shipment to the Peshmerga has been blocked or delayed by Baghdad. Even though most of the fighting since last summer has focused on areas where the Peshmerga are not present, Baghdad has to date approved the delivery of some 370 plane loads of defense equipment donated by coalition partners to Erbil.
The Iraqi government is also working with tribal forces to ensure that they have the weaponry and support to liberate their local communities. But retaking every inch of Iraq requires rebuilding a military that more inclusively integrates these local forces.
To this end, the government is seeking to create a national guard, which would be manned by local citizens charged with fortifying the defenses of the communities in which they live. This will encourage locals to take greater responsibility for the security of their neighborhoods. The government has already submitted a draft national guard bill to parliament, and a second reading of the bill has been completed as part of the debating process.
Iraqi unity is also threatened on the economic front. Regrettably, one of our government’s signature achievements for national unity is at risk of unraveling.
Last December, we reached a historic oil agreement with the KRG under which oil from the Kurdistan region and the state oil fields in Kirkuk would be sold through Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization, or SOMO, in line with the Iraqi Constitution, while the government in Baghdad ensured that the Kurdish region receives its fair share of the federal budget.
However, the KRG has failed to meet its oil delivery obligations. It has transferred less than 50 percent of the agreed quantities of oil to SOMO over the past 6 months, while also independently exporting oil outside of the agreement and in violation of the constitution.
This is about more than money and oil — it is about unity and trust. The KRG needs to return to this agreement so all Iraqis can focus once again on collectively defeating Daesh. Just as importantly, we need to give all Iraqis an Iraq worth fighting for: a multiethnic, multisectarian, and democratic state that serves and secures all of its citizens.
While Iraq is fighting the transnational terrorists on behalf of the world, we cannot win without an international effort. In accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2199, the international community — and our neighbors in particular — are obligated under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to do much more to dismantle Daesh’s global financing and recruitment networks and to take action against the pernicious ideology of hate that continues to fuel this conflict.
The Iraqi people are forever grateful to Americans for their sacrifices for our freedom and security. To build an Iraq worthy of our shared sacrifices — and to save all of humanity from the scourge of Daesh — there are no quick fixes before us, only a collective effort to strengthen the unity of our nation.