Shockwave Reaches India

Editorial: July 2014

Hardnews Bureau Delhi

The unending carnage in the Middle East saw a massive spurt of bloodshed when a radical Muslim organisation, Islamic State of Iraq and Levant or Al Sham (ISIL), captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. What shocked many was that the militants — barely numbering a few thousands and armed with personal weapons — captured a city that was defended by thousands of US-trained Iraqi army personnel. Mysteriously, these soldiers ran away without a fight. It is still not clear who organised this takeover, but the net outcome of the attack and subsequent occupation is that the region’s borders — redrawn by British and French colonialists through the Sykes-Picot pact that carved the Ottoman Empire into Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — have come under serious threat. ISIL is one of those rotten religious militant groups that have been spawned by Western powers to achieve different objectives over the years. They have been encouraged by the West to take down the secular government of Syria and to dismantle the state in Libya or elsewhere. They practise a faith that is violently sectarian and have little patience for other sects or religions. The ISIL’s occupation of Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria witnessed an unprecedented reign of terror; there were public executions of those who dared to question them and women were forced to wear the abaya – the head-to-toe Arabian black garment. Even though the citizens of Aleppo and Raqqa were supportive of the Syrian army, outside help from neighbouring countries was keeping the ISIL armada in total control. Interestingly, ISIL has been occupying areas that are oil-rich. Raqqa has oil wells that were earlier used by Syrian oil companies. Mosul also has a refinery nearby, which produces a major fraction of Iraqi oil. The threat to this Baiji oil refinery has sent shock waves around the world, even in India, causing the latest spike in oil prices. The price of oil will rise further if ISIL expands its area of control, or if other refineries come under threat.

But price rise is not the only threat for India. Looking at how ISIL’s growth has been spin-doctored and packaged, what’s apparent is that it is fuelling Sunni angst against the Shia leadership of Iraq and, to some extent, Syria. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nour Maliki, who has been in power since 2006 with the help of the US, has made no attempts to reach out to the Sunni population of the country. Rather, he has been out to deepen the chasm between them. That’s besides the low quality of governance he has provided in Iraq, which has been deeply secular due to the influence of the socialist Baath party. Today, the country has been ravaged by this sectarian narrative encouraged by the western media and the vicious game being played by neighbouring powers who want to control its oil wealth.

The Shia-Sunni divide narrative has become so overwhelming that many Shias from the sub-continent are worked up enough to travel to Iraq to protect the shrines in the holy city of Karbala. Hundreds of thousands from South Asia have volunteered to undertake this difficult journey. It may be early days, but the angry noises that have emanated from the two sects have the making of a bloody Armageddon. What could exacerbate tensions is the announcement by the ISIL chief, Baghdadi, to declare himself the Caliph of the Islamic state on the first day of Ramzan. It is a tricky announcement that calls on Muslims to refuse recognition of their national boundaries and converge around the Caliph. There are many hotheads that are responding to the radicalism of ISIL, whose map stretches to parts of India and Pakistan. Many of those who helped ISIL capture Mosul were from Pakistan. Successes in the Middle East for ISIL may embolden its followers to shake things up in Pakistan and Afghanistan. By the looks of it, even
the Taliban would not be averse to taking up an ISIL franchise. The problems for India regarding Iraq, it seems, are not just confined to our workers and nurses being trapped there.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2014