ISIS cannot overrun Baghdad

Short interview with Ramzy Mardini, Nonresident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

1. Iraq foreign ministers Hoshyar Zebari said that the fall of Mosul poses a mortal threat to country. Do you agree or maybe not, and why? 

No, that is an exaggeration. The fall of Mosul is certainly a very concerning development, and with the freeing of thousands of prisoners and robbing of the bank of hundreds of millions of dollars — ISIS is bound to become an even more powerful force. But they cannot overrun Baghdad. It’s impossible. ISIS can perform attacks in the south, but it can’t hold and defend territory there. So far ISIS has taken Sunni territory, not Shiite. Baghdad has a Shiite security infrastructure. It will stand and fight. They won’t dessert their posts like what happened in Mosul, and Fallujah before it. Plus the Iranians will never allow ISIS to take Baghdad, and neither will Shiite militias.

2. Regarding current development in Iraq what kind of consequences do you expect for the broader region?

Iraq sits at the crux of the regional Shiite-Sunni divide, with insurgent groups of both sects operating outside Iraq. While sectarian divisions are already sharp, what’s most concerning for the region is the growing rationale for non-state actors to survive and thrive. The weakness of the security institutions of the state throughout the Levant is allowing space for militancy and militias to take root and grow, which increases the risk of transnational terrorism. The primary problem for the U.S. is the coupling of militancy and ungoverned territory throughout the region. Both Syria and Iraq are becoming merged as one sectarian conflict, and they need to be dealt within a single policy framework rather than two separate countries.

3. Whom to blame for the mess in Iraq in your opinion and why? Bush, Obama, Maliki, Iran, Saudi Arabia, all of them? 

You can’t blame any single one actor; they all share some form of responsibility.  Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all reacted to the realities brought about by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration holds the most blame for breaking Iraq; the Obama administration holds the much minor blame of neglecting Iraq. Iraq’s problems are bigger than Maliki. The dynamics driving the worsening security and political environments cannot be solely blamed on any individual, and yet all of Iraq’s elites do share some of the blame.

4. Will a new borders  be established in the region?

That’s possible. I don’t think new borders will solve the problem; they may create more. The new borders, should they emerge, will come as a reaction of the new realities on the ground, realities that can no longer go back to the status quo ante. I would imagine the Kurds in Iraq are the most advanced to form an independent state. Again, that would create more problems, not less.

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