Recent events in Iraq have shown the central government is losing control of the country. The riots in Basa and elsewhere over unemployment and lack of government services continue to show that the people of Iraq have lost confidence in their government.
The poor turnout in the last elections and the better than expected results for Muqtada al-Sadr should be forcing the power elites to reassess the government, but it is not.
The movement of military units into the troubled region and the wounding and killing of Iraqi civilians is an indicator of an illiberal government system that cannot respond to constituents needs. This was also evidenced in the attack on Kirkuk and the disputed territories following the Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum less than one year ago.
These decisions are often blamed on the ever-increasing interference from Tehran, notably considering the reliance on Hashd al-Shaabi militias which are known to be controlled by Iran through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Current violence against civilians this time, however, is being directed against a large Shia population.
While Iran is involved, it must also be pointed out that the Iranian government is also occupied in putting down demonstrations in its own country.
Once again, we see the use of force by Iraq’s military against its own citizens and under the direct order of the central government. This is a scene that we have seen repeated throughout history, usually by dictatorships or monarchies.
We have seen this in American history from the Boston massacre to the state’s reaction to civil rights marches. It was repeated in France during their revolution, and in Russia before the revolution and in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation. It was witnessed in China at the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations.
If anything should have been learned from history, it is that attacking your own citizens has never resulted in a restored system or returned faith to the people in their governments.
Iran should also remember the riots in the streets prior to the overthrow of the Shah. To make matters worse, as military units are moved about and the people attacked, Islamic State (IS) elements have made a return.
This should also act as a cautionary tale for the KRG: When a large segment of the population rises up to demonstrate, once public safety is secured, the government must take notice and move to resolve issues.
As stated above, the US is no stranger to violence and having state agencies reply with force. While a dark chapter in our history, it was a learning experience. The government took notice and moved to address and resolve issues, some of which continue to plague us today.
Once the government and the people can agree that a problem exists, it can be corrected as both sides understand they are the same. What is happening today in Iraq is that the government and the people have become adversaries and neither side is talking.
Compounding problems in a country with no separation between civil and religious loyalty, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has come out in support of the protestors. This may lead some in the regular Iraqi military to hesitate to take orders and will result in even greater violence from the Iranian-led militias.
The Sunnis have already been marginalized by the Shias and have in the past turned to IS as the lesser of two evils. The Kurdish north has already made its feelings known and paid the price.
The future of Iraq, as it is today, is bleak if it exists at all.
The modern world may have caught up with governments in the region. Instant communication and internet access have brought much of the world into the everyday life of most people in the world. The attempt by Baghdad to cut access is evidence that they understand this phenomenon, but it is likely too late.
As many have attributed access to western television as a partial cause of the demise of the Soviet Union, the internet is attributing to the fall of Iraq.
Iraq and the world must prepare for the inevitable dissolution of Iraq as a nation. Chances are it could happen quickly, beginning with the failure to form a government or it could take a few years, but the signs are all there.
The Kurds already have a system in place, as do the Shias. Now is the time to help the Sunni before IS once again establishes its caliphate. With control waning, there is no guarantee that what is left of Iraq would be able to resist an extremist threat this time.
It is time to look to the future pragmatically, rather than to the past hopefully.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Nadia Riva