Now that Mosul has been declared liberated, marking the end of the caliphate in Iraq, the refrain in the prestige press seems to be "Not so fast."
This stands to reason. ISIS was always in line with U.S. policy goals in Iraq and Syria (the acronym remember stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
Even prior to the amazing spontaneous emergence of the caliphate in Mosul pressure was being put on then Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki to grant some form of autonomy to the Sunni heartland. The United States wanted to see a Sunnistan with its own military.
Former Obama foreign policy elite Tony Blinken was back at it the other day in "The Islamic State Is Not Dead Yet":
Even more challenging is what comes next. Twenty-five million Sunni Muslims live between Baghdad and Damascus. They have been alienated from their governments.
Unless they can be convinced that their state will protect and not persecute them, an Islamic State 2.0 will find plenty of new recruits and supporters.
Iraq offers the best prospects for success. But left to their own devices, its leaders are more likely to perpetuate the conditions that gave rise to violent extremism. And Iraq’s neighbors will line up behind whichever sect they support, reinforcing a zero-sum mentality in Iraq itself.
That’s where American diplomacy comes in.
The United States can’t dictate outcomes to a sovereign Iraq. But it can support, incentivize and mobilize those willing to move Iraq in the right direction.
This starts with backing what Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, calls functioning federalism — giving Iraqis at the provincial level the responsibility and resources to provide for their own security, services and schools and to govern their day-to-day lives.
That’s the best way to convince Sunnis that their future is within Iraq and not with a new Islamic State. Iraq’s Sunnis used to oppose federalism in favor of a strong central government; increasingly, they embrace it.
Iraq’s constitution provides for decentralization, but it has yet to be put into effect. Some within the Shia community, goaded on by Iran, will insist on retaining the spoils of majoritarian rule, preserving a dominant Baghdad to lord it over the Sunnis.
Bringing functioning federalism to life begins with effectively implementing a law that governs Iraq’s militia, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Shiite P.M.F. units must be placed under state control, kept out of politics and away from Sunni areas.
Sunni P.M.F. units mobilized into the fight against the Islamic State need to stay on the state payroll and assume responsibility for securing their own territory. Baghdad also must make sure that investment and major infrastructure projects don’t bypass Sunni regions.So the song from before the caliphate remains the same after the caliphate. Doesn't that smell fishy to you?
Tim Arango adds some much needed detail in "Iraq Celebrates Victory Over ISIS in Mosul, but Risks Remain." He quotes Maliki who predicts more turbulence ahead:
“Syria and Iraq are closely connected,” Mr. Maliki said in an interview this year. “If the situation in Syria is unstable, Iraq will be unstable.”
When asked about the future of Iraq after the Islamic State, Mr. Maliki said: “The state cannot control the situation. The coming phase will be bad.”The coming bad phase, absent more jihadist-U.S. false flags, will be initiated by the Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for September. When the vote comes in as an overwhelming Yes, Iraq will be forced to negotiate. Part of the negotiations will include Sunnistan because if the Kurds get their own state, even if only as a federal administrative unit of the nation of Iraq, the Sunnis will want a similar deal.
The wild card here is Turkey. How will Turkey respond?