Contagion at the gates

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on the jihadist Youtube account Harith on June 12, 2014 allegedly shows captured Iraqi security forces vehicles mounted with the trademark Jihadists flag as they drive along a road in the northern city of Mosul. (AFP PHOTO / YOUTUBE / HARITH)

Alarm bells in world capitals have been ringing loudly this week in the wake of the dramatic developments in Iraq, where Al-Qaeda-inspired militants have seized large swathes of territory from the central government in a surprise offensive.

Many questions can be raised about the sudden interest and cries of anguish about the threat of “terror” in Iraq – as if the last several months did not see enough senseless violence to attract attention.

One may speculate about the role of Iraq’s natural resource riches and draw sharp comparisons between the international community’s response this week in Iraq, and to events in Syria over the past three years. An even more intriguing question involves what exactly the United States left behind when it exited Iraq, especially after millions of lives and billions of dollars were spent to build a viable state.

Any useful answer to these questions should be used to formulate a comprehensive approach to the latest problem, namely state institutions being unable to fight back against the challenge posed by a relatively small group of ideologically driven militants. Al-Qaeda’s challenge to the state of Iraq should cause leading international powers and countries in Iraq’s vicinity to wield the highest level of seriousness as they tackle the problem.

Because sectarian tension has been ramped up in recent years, the volatility of developments in Iraq threatens a whole range of countries, and not just the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The risk of sectarian atrocities or the desecration of holy sites should have officials working to contain the crisis, because things could get dramatically worse and have repercussions beyond Iraq’s borders.

Identifying the failures is relatively easy – the challenge is to offer serious and viable solutions for Iraq as well as other places suffering from the same disease.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2014, on page 7.




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