Sept. 23, 2014 by Darius
As the US continues gathering allies to fight ISIS, several prominent people have mentioned the importance of getting Sunni Arab tribes in western Iraq to fight ISIS. These tribes are currently either (a) allied with ISIS or (b) largely on the sidelines of the conflict. Getting them into the fight would be a shot in the arm for the anti-ISIS coalition. But why would the tribes choose to fight? These tribes have no future to look forward to in the Iraqi state.
As has become painfully obvious for Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, a democratic system just does not work for them when Shias make up a large majority. Iraqi voters split overwhelmingly along sectarian lines and are likely to continue this voting pattern into the far future. Thus, Sunnis are doomed to remain a minority opposition in perpetuity unless and until Iraqi voters decide something is more important than ethnic/religious identity.
Another option for Sunni inclusion into a “democratic” Iraq is to create a Lebanon-like state, a kind of institutionalized instability. In Lebanon, sectarian tensions were kept in check by the fact that different political positions were reserved for members of different religious communities: the president was always a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister was always a Sunni. Indeed, something like this was adapted in post-US invasion Iraq. A Kurd, Jalal Talabani, became the president of Iraq, while a Shia, Nuri al-Maliki, was prime minister, and a Sunni, Tariq al-Hashemi, was vice president. In practice, though, Maliki called the shots, ran the show, and marginalized the other leaders. In the end, Hashemi, the Sunni leader, was forced from the country on a politically motivated murder charge; he currently resides in Turkey. Clearly, institutionalized power sharing has not worked for Iraqi Sunnis.
Finally, we’ve done this all before. These same Sunni tribes were already coaxed into turning the tables against an extremist Sunni terrorist group in Iraq once. What happened next? Iraq’s Shia-dominated government broke its promises of political inclusion and once again marginalized and oppressed Iraqi Sunnis.
It is easy to understand why the Sunnis are either fighting alongside ISIS or sitting it out. They don’t necessarily want an ISIS-style caliphate; they want control over “their” parts of Iraq.
To fight and die fighting ISIS on behalf of the Iraqi state, Iraq’s Sunni tribes are going to need something a whole lot more compelling than vague promises about the future.