x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Iraq must look for a long-term solution

The Iraqi government needs to ensure peace and security if it wants to build an inclusive society.

Once again, Iraq’s security forces are turning to the nation’s citizens for support. Last week, seminars were held with cafe owners on how to identify suicide bombers following a surge of attacks on public spaces including cafes, as well as sports stadiums, markets and mosques.

It is a stark reminder of the country’s sectarian civil war, and how Iraqis had taken matters into their own hands. A surge of violence turned Baghdad into a city of enclaves divided by blast walls and restricted entrances, with members of every neighbourhood keeping watch on who came in and who went out.

Last year, many of these concrete barriers slowly started coming down, as the security situation improved, providing an air of optimism and a belief that coexistence was the only way forward.

But attacks have again become more common in Baghdad and across Iraq, taking as many as 5,800 lives this year, according to Agence France- Presse. Most of the attacks have been claimed by Al Qaeda.

In the past, the group comprised fighters from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya and elsewhere, but now Al Qaeda’s members in Iraq have become predominantly Iraqi. The surge in home-grown militants provides worrying evidence that Iraq’s leadership has fuelled the radicalisation of discontented members in society.

The withdrawal of US troops in 2011, coupled with the absence of a strong power broker, has given Iraq’s Shia leadership room to exclude the country’s second largest ethno-confessional group, the Sunnis.

Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has failed to maintain ties with the Sahwa fighters, a group of Sunni tribesmen who were paid by US troops to identify and target Al Qaeda operatives. Since the US withdrawal, the Sahwa have been left behind to face a backlash from militants.

Mr Maliki’s trip to Washington last month revealed plans to purchase US Apache helicopters and other military equipment, at a time when the general public feels that Iraq’s government should be concentrating on smarter intelligence, better governance and delivering on basic services.

The public’s cynicism has been fed by incidents such as the use of fake bomb detectors that have been ridiculed as “magic wands”. This equipment is still being used by security forces even after it was discredited in a UK court case. Such actions have led the Iraqi public to feel that their lives are expendable under the country’s leadership.

That the government is turning to the public to ensure peace and security may be divisive in the short term, but it is essential for the preservation of life. But if Iraq is ever to again become a cohesive society, a more enduring solution will have to be found.