CGP senior fellows Kamran Bokhari and Hassan Abbas discuss the current situation in Iraq, with a focus on sectarianism and the status of Mosul. Abbas, who is also a professor of international security affairs at the National Defense University, draws on his knowledge of Iraq, field work and conversations with Iraqi insiders to explain the complexities of Iraq in general and Mosul in particular.
From the outside, Mosul looks like a Sunni city that was liberated from Daesh, or ISIS, by a Shiite-dominated military force (the Iraqi army). Abbas argues that Sunnis and Shia have been living under each other’s rule for a long time — sometimes happily, at other times at least peacefully — and that the situation in Mosul is not unique. Too, the Iraqi forces are pretty evenly divided between Shia and Sunnis, though there are many Shiite officers. Moreover, in some areas in and around the city, tribal loyalties are more important than sectarianism. And yet, Abbas says that Daesh has been “masterful” in using sectarian tensions and divisions to sow the kind of chaos needed for a radical group to take root.
Abbas also points out that there are divisions at multiple levels, even among the Shia, that could take a very long time to overcome. In the meantime, the chances of a rapprochement between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shia are not good, he says. Radicalization, poverty and a lack of religious leadership cast a cloud over hopes for an understanding between the groups. Though Jordan recently made an effort to gather representatives from many Muslim sects for a dialogue, in Iraq there is not likely to be a major initiative toward harmony anytime soon.