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Iraq’s Historic Choice: Fight Sectarianism and Terrorism, or Partition

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The voice of the Emir of Kuwait in his comments after bombing a Shia mosque June 26 should echo all over the Middle East. “We do not have Sunnis and Shias. We have only Kuwaitis”, the Emir said in a warning to all who incite religious hatred in the region. And who knows, maybe Drs. Frankenstein, abundant in the region, will listen.

But some people, in both sides, are deaf anyway. Inciting religious hatred is their “raison d’etre”. They are no more if sectarianism is ending. It gives them a sense of superiority and righteousness while they are in fact stupid and wrong. Take the example of some die-hard sectarianists in Iraq. Kurds Beshmerga units in Khormato issued what it called “last warning” to the Shia Popular Mobilization Force or Hashd to stop harassing Kurds in the region.

A communique from the Kurdish Democratic Party said that it is giving the Hashd forces 15 days to revise its behavior towards the region’s civilians. “Peshmerga units will follow a different approach if this warning is not considered”, the communique said. The Kurdish units withdrew from several villages in that region and left the Hashd forces vulnerable to attacks by ISIL. According to previous agreements between the two sides, Kurdish forces guard a good portion of the defenses of Khormato while the Hashd took care of the rest. Now, the Shia forces have to carry the burden of manning the previously Kurdish guarded lines.

The Beshmerga threatened to leave more posts defenseless if the Hashd does not arrest the responsible for kidnapping some Kurdish locals and torturing them. The Kurdish forces demanded to be handed the perpetrators within the 15 days warning period. If the Beshmerga forces pull out of their posts, ISIL will attack the Hashd instantly.

The thugs of the Hashd forces committed another crime that may have political ramifications. A group of armed Hashd fighters attacked the house of a prominent Anbar tribal leader and stole what they could carry. Sheikh Khaled Al Mohamedi’s house was attacked at Khalediah and the Sheikh, who fought Al Qaeda heroically in 2006 and fighting ISIL now, was humiliated. The Council of Anbar Province held an urgent meeting June 30 and demanded to punish the perpetrators.

Even with fellow Shias, the Hashd continues its lawless political stupidities. The governor of Basra, Majid Al Nassrawi said in an official letter to all the governorate officials that any relations with the Commander of Hashd forces in the province should be severed and his requests are to be denied. A spokesman for the governor said the letter was issued following “illegal interference by the Hashd Commander in police and security affairs in Basra. These affairs are the responsibility of the governor”. The Commander responded by mocking the governor’s decision and saying that he receives his orders from Baghdad, not from the Basra governor.

However, the Hashd is effective in fighting ISIL. The problem here is that, as a matter of essence, there is little difference between the two. Both groups flourish at the expense of Iraq’s national unity. Both of them are deeply sectarian. And both of them refuse the principle of equality to all Iraqis. The ultimate fight will be between the Arab Iraqi Shia religious institutions, particularly in Karbala, and the political proxies of Iran in Baghdad. Religious institutions in Karbala will have to enter the ring and insist on carrying a program of ideological preparation for the Hashd units to sensitize them to their Iraqi identity and to counter the divisive indoctrination by the pro-Iranian political heads in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, officials in Anbar say that they managed to get about seven thousand tribesman to join the US train and equip program at Habaniyah Air Base. According to other information the actual number is less than that. The head of Anbar Governorate Council Sabah Karhout said that Anbar is waiting for the moment of it liberation from ISIL. “Soon, the battle of Anbar will start. However, we are still very short in weapons and ammunitions. We requested from the central government again to provide both in order to enable us to control the territories we clean from ISIL. We accept without reservation to be under the command of the national army, and we reject without reservation as well any sectarian incitement”, he said.

These are but few recent examples of how a country defeats itself in its battle against terrorism. Some other ominous signs came from the North this time. A dispute between the two major Kurdish parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) appeared June 23 during a meeting of the regions Parliament. The dispute is centered on the mechanism to select the President of the KRG and the nature of the region’s political system.

It is more likely that the Kurds will reach a compromise in the next few weeks. Yet, what is evident is that the sentiments of Iraqi Sunnis that they are marginalized is not helping in the fight against ISIL or establishing a coherent base for a unified Iraq. Differences between the Arab Sunnis and the Kurds appeared as well in Diyala province concerning the return of the families who left their homes earlier and what Sunnis see as attempts to change the demography of the province. A compromise was reached, though it is not certain it will hold.