January 9, 2017, 5:27 pm IST
In what was a bloody Sunday for residents of the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, a spate of suicide bombings killed at least 23 people and injured many more. Two of the bombings have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror group. Three other bombings around Baghdad remain unclaimed but are blamed on IS. In the first attack, a driver blew up his explosives-laden vehicle at the Alwat-Jamila market in eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City. In the second attack, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up at a busy market in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Baladiyat. That both targeted areas predominantly inhabited by Shias shows that IS is desperately trying to keep the sectarian narrative going in the Iraqi conflict.
The reason I say desperately is because IS is fast losing ground in Iraq. In fact, Iraqi government forces’ ongoing Mosul offensive has made significant gains in recent days. For the first time since the offensive began last October, Iraqi forces were able to reach the eastern bank of river Tigris that bifurcates Mosul. True, the operations have been more difficult than what was expected with IS offering stiff resistance through booby traps, suicide bombings and sniper attacks. But Mosul will eventually fall. It’s only a matter of time. However, the end is likely to be extremely bloody and ugly. IS will fight to the last man and the last bullet.
As a matter of fact, recent reports from the battlefield suggest that IS is upping the ante by deploying improvised drones laden with explosives against Iraqi forces. Although rudimentary in design, the weaponised drones demonstrate IS’s capability to innovate in battlefield situations. But, I repeat, all of this is delaying the inevitable. IS will lose Mosul – its last major urban stronghold in Iraq – and will probably become an underground sectarian outfit. And this is precisely why Iraqi authorities must begin preparations for the post-IS period.
There’s no denying that IS rose to prominence on the back of grievances experienced by Iraq’s Sunni population. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the new dispensation in Iraq came to be dominated by Shia politicians. And this saw a campaign of vitriol and marginalisation being directed against the Sunnis. This in turn created an opening for IS. If Iraq is to avoid repeating the same mistake, it must adopt an inclusive approach towards the country’s Sunni population. Sunnis need to be part of the political process in Baghdad, they need greater representation in Iraq’s state institutions, and they must have better access to government services. Without these, Sunni grievances will remain, paving the way for a bigger monster than IS to emerge.
With this in mind, all stakeholders in Iraq must start seeking an inclusive Iraqi identity. There needs to be a new debate on what it means to be an Iraqi keeping in mind the country’s rich and diverse history. This is a land where myriad cultures flourished over the ages, creating myriad human traditions and practices. Those should form the template for a new Iraq that accepts Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Yazidis and hundreds of other minorities as all children of this ancient land. It is this ideal of Iraqi plurality that is the true antidote for IS.