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Security Issues and the Threat to Iraq’s Energy Sector

Security Issues and the Threat to Iraq’s Energy Sector

IS military parade in al-Raqqa, Syria, using US vehicles and weaponry seized from the Iraqi army
IS military parade in al-Raqqa, Syria, using US vehicles and weaponry seized from the Iraqi army

Since the former al-Qaeda branch Islamic State (IS) seized much of Iraq’s Sunni regions in 2014, questions have arisen over the threat it poses to Iraq’s development and its oilfields. The present situation differs in several important respects from the previous extremist insurgency that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

To begin with, the present insurgency does not have its roots simply in domestic unrest with the stated aim of ousting an occupying force. Rather, this insurgency stems from divisive politics of an inequitable central government in Baghdad, general terrorist movements that thrive in the chaos of war zones and the power vacuum in Syria, with which Iraq shares a long border in the west (for more information, see Country Report: Syria).

The removal of the Baathist regime undoubtedly exposed the fissures hidden beneath the surface of Saddam’s iron-fisted security apparatus. However, the ensuing violence might have been anticipated had those in charge understood the sectarian divisions in Iraq and how they were likely to be exacerbated by the collapse of the rule of law following the invasion. The al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) movement can thus be viewed as a direct consequence of the invasion; it could hardly have come into existence otherwise.

The pull-out of American troops has quelled the uprising of Shiite militias ardently opposed to a non-Muslim military presence in the country, but the Sunni-rooted movement has persisted and even grown. This can be attributed to the terrorist inclinations of the hard-core AQI group but, even more, to the marginalization of the Sunni population in western Iraq by the Shia-majority government in Baghdad. In the apocalyptic environment of years of war, AQI has shifted from an insurgent group battling American military patrols into a cross-border entity approximating a state, one purporting to represent the interests of an oppressed Sunni Arab population while maintaining a “pure” form of Islamic government. The IS media stunt of bulldozing a stretch of the Syria-Iraq border and declaring an “end to the Sykes-Picot Agreement” and the invention of a new caliphate after seizing Mosul (Iraq’s second-most populous city), marked a new chapter in the region’s history.

The present situation thus reflects a much deeper issue than insurgency. It brings into question the future of Iraq, as well as that of Syria and how the world will deal with increased terror threats from the first-ever Islamic terrorist state. Map 5 shows the presence of IS forces just before the beginning of US-led coalition airstrikes; approximately one third of Iraqi territory was under direct or indirect IS control before the start of the coalition airstrikes.

 

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