The intricate scenario in Iraq. Not (only) a religious problem

(In collaboration with Termometro Politico)


They are fighting just 50 kilometres from Baghdad. ISIS (ad-Dawlat al-Islāmiyya fī’l-‘Irāq wa’sh-Shām), a jihadist takfiri[1] group, has gained ground in a short time revealing the inefficiency of Iraqi army and the incompetence of the different governments, which have underrated this big threat to the stability and the safety.

This analysis, popular on media but too simplistic, does not consider that the situation is the result of a “domino” effect that has involved, and is still involving, different regional and international actors. The war in Afghanistan, and especially all the civil wars in the Near East and in the Southern Mediterranean, have opened up a Pandora’s box, causing chaos in a geographical area starting from Urumqi and ending in Timbuctoo, the “impregnable”. Syria is the penultimate scenario of this spectacular domino effect that has blown out the head of many political leaders (literally, sometimes).

In Syria, ISIS has tried to get consent through the ranks of Qaedist groups but it’s failed and had the opposition (armed opposition, too) of Al-Nusra, the only Qaedist signature in Syria, until May 4th; Al-Nusra got that Al-Baghdadi’s army (Al-Baghdadi is the mystery leader of ISIS) moved to Northern Iraq[2], by calling a ceasefire. By using an effective military strategy, ISIS quickly succeeded to impose itself militarily by relying on many different allies, including ex-Baathist members (veterans of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order) and jihadist Sunni groups (Ansar al-Islam)[3], and taking advantage of general discontent with Al-Maliki pro-Shiite government, supported by the unlikely couple Washington-Teheran[4].

Iraqi President’s complaints were ineffective: he pointed his finger at Qatar and Saudi Arabia and accused them of funding and arming jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq[5]. ISIS definitely took advantage of aid (not so secret) from US and the Gulf Monarchies, but both US and its Middle East allies have lost control of it. At the beginning, Americans didn’t want to establish a caliphate in the Middle East[6]; Saudi Arabia – and Qatar as well – decided on good-natured, obedient and lay allies, even though they would choose between these one and the so-called fundamentalists[7]. In fact, it has been a long time since they procured weapons and money on their own, by plundering everything; in particular, ISIS occupied Northern Iraq and stole a large amount of money and gold: according to some estimates, this would allow the terrorist organization not only to pay its own guerrilla fighters for a year without spending its savings, but also to become the richest terrorist organization in the world[8], thus representing a threat to the safety of the “faithless nations” (each country potentially is)[9].

Fighters from most worldwide hot-spots are attracted to this great prosperity[10], also because managing petroleum business could be possible. Maybe Washington’s decision to intervene or not in the war might depend on this matter. 275 US troops are deploying to Baghdad for the purpose of protecting US Embassy’s personnel[11]; Kerry, US Secretary of State, said that they are considering all options available to them, opening also talks with Iran (that has already taken place in the area) to coordinate military operations[12]. Despite these analyses, occupation by ISIS causes damage not only to the White House. In fact, if this situation lasts a long time, it may challenge not only the Presidency of Al-Maliki[13] but also business relating to petroleum contracts: China is buying half of Iraqi oil production and is investing in mining industry now[14]; this complicated scenario represents a great economic damage to Beijing and an opportunity for Washington. 

This synthesis shows that this is a tricky situation, full of actors and possible scenarios; it does not lend itself to simplistic interpretations, reducing everything to the opposition between Sunnis and Shiites or Riyhad and Teheran. Or rather, great ethno-religious variety and many political interests have even more “liquefied” two countries, which are essential for religion, Iraq and Syria. ISIS objective is clear, as suggested by its slogan”Baqiya wa tatamaddad”, which means that the Islamic state “is here to stay and it is spreading”. In a changing scenario like this we have only to wait for Washington’s decision, to hope Iranian and Iraqi troops will hold out and prevent ISIS from “staying and spreading”, causing even more instability in the area.   



[1] In general, a takfiri is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy (the word derives from kafir, infidel). In the “journalistic style”, a takfiri group is a group, usually Sunni, that distinguishes between believers and unbelievers. Violence is just against unbelievers in order to create an Islamic State, according to the precepts of the Koran. Robert Baer, The Devil We Know, Crown, New York 2008. 

[2] Anon., Syria: Al-Nusra Front agrees to end fighting with ISIS, Asharq Al-Awsat.

[3] Jacob Siegel, ISIS’s secret Allies, The Daily Beast.

[4] Al-Maliki chose a centralized management of petroleum resources, mainly located in Iraqi Kurdistan, promising (but he never kept his promise) to invest again  the proceeds from the sale of the black gold. This caused a problem between the leader of Iraq and Barzani, the president of the Kurdish-majority region of Iraq. Anon., Lo scontro sul petrolio fra Baghdad e il Kurdistan minaccia l’unità dell’Iraq, Asianews’unit%C3%A0-dell’Iraq-30094.html   

[7] We are referring to the Egyptian case, in which Saudi Arabia winked at Mubarak’s successors rather than at the Muslim Brotherhood.

[8]Jack Moore, Mosul Seized: Jihadis Loot $429m from City’s Central Bank to Make Isis World’s Richest Terror Force, International Business Times.

[9]  Even Jordan, frightened by a possible escalation on its own area, played its cards against ISIS, by setting Assem Barqawi free, anti-ISIS Salafi leader, better known as Mohammad al-Maqdesi, in order to avoid the penetration into its own area by ultra-extremist fringes. Areej Abuqudairi, Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader, AlJazeera.

[10]They are about 30.000, according to many international sources.  Anon., Iraq: Isis contro esercito Baghdad, uomini e armi,

[11]Anon., US to deploy 275 troops to Iraq, AlJazeera America.

[12] Giordano Stabile, Iraq, rallenta l’avanzata dell’Isis. Kerry: pronti a collaborare con l’Iran, La Stampa.

[13] Therefore, the political proximity between Iraq and Iran, a relationship that faced the US embargo against Teheran, by stipulating useful commercial agreements. 

[14]Teddy NG, China pledges to pump more funds into Iraq’s oil sector, infrastructure, South China Morning Post.

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