In the aftermath of the Sunni revolt, the political struggle for Iraq continues.

© A. Abbas/Magnum Photos: IRAQ. Baghdad. After a rally against the American presence in their country, Shias perform their midday prayer under the canon and the machine gun of an Abrams US tank.

© A. Abbas/Magnum Photos: IRAQ. Baghdad. After a rally against the American presence in their country, Shias perform their midday prayer under the canon and the machine gun of an Abrams US tank.

“The legend which claims that Iraq is a country stitched together by the from the three Ottoman villayats or provinces , Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra, is shallow. Turkey decentralised from Baghdad for a brief time before the First World War. The historian Malik Mufti refutes the claim without hesitation by stating that ‘Iraq (as created by Britain) was not an entirely artificial concept. Iraq as a place with a people was already in existence under the Ottoman Empire and even earlier.”


The war against rebellious Sunni tribes, the militant Salafi (as supposed to the quietest, apolitical version of Salafism) insurgents and the terrorist cells of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is over. However, the tussle for post-Saddam Iraq has continued for nearly two decades and as violence decreases across the country, this struggle continues even if soft power has superseded the use of hard power for now.

In some respects, the civil war, which was a fight predominantly between Shia and Sunni (though many Iraqi Sunnis and Salafis have fought against ISIS and Al-Qa’ida as well) and started with the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, is over for now. As Ranj Alaaldin for Foreign Affairs correctly argues “Sunni Arabs are unlikely to mobilise for the foreseeable future. They are too bruised, bloodied, and fatigued as a result of countless wars against enemies internal (ISIS, Al-Qa’ida in Iraq, tribal infighting) and external (the United States, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi armed forces, and sectarian Shiite militia groups).”

While ISIS and Al-Qa’ida in Iraq manipulated and channeled the rage of Sunni Arabs against the government of Baghdad and the toxic legacy of the U.S occupation, the terrorist group has left itself utterly discredited for the foreseeable future. Certainly, the organisation brought a semblance of stability for a short-term period in 2014 when it carved out a sub-state in 2014, but it ruled through terror and hard-line policies. Men and women disappeared into prisons and were tortured and executed, often by beheading, and full-scale ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence was unleashed on Iraq’s minorities, the Shia and Kurdish communities.

The ultra-orthodox, ultra-violent brand of Salafi-jihadism adopted by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has left swathes of Iraq in ruin. Iraq’s diverse communities, through the actions of these men and women, have paid a horrendous price since 2003. The disappearance of Mosul in rubble and fire was the most potent symbol of the failure of Al-Qa’ida and ISIS in the country. Suicide bombings ravaged Iraq. Where no suicide bombing had impacted Iraq before 2003 by 2015 there had been between 1892 such attacks. Between 2006 and 2016, according to Statista, there were 36,007 terrorist attacks in Iraq while there have been nine in the United Kingdom between 2005 - 2017 (roughly 0.02% of Iraq’s total. These are extraordinary figures, and despite these stats not differentiating between who carried out the attacks, the legacies of each of these attacks will be long lasting.

The latest round of fighting against ISIS demonstrated this. As Jeremy Bowen commented in The NewStatesman during the battle of Mosul, “War is brutal. In a complicated fight in a densely populated city such as Mosul, civilians will die. But under international humanitarian law, belligerents must do all they can to protect them. It is clear that the jihadists (ISIS) are not doing so. The Iraqis and the US-led coalition need to do better, not just for legal or moral reasons. Politics dictates restraint. If Iraqis come to regard the war in Mosul not as force legitimately used but as the careless slaughter of Sunnis, Iraq will have no chance of stability and peace.”

According to AirWars in April, 2018, the U.S-led coalition has acknowledged its involvement in the deaths of 352 civilians during the battle for the city. These figures seem inconceivable considering the length of the siege and given that in one incident alone, over one-hundred civilians were killed in a U.S airstrike in the al-Jadidah neighborhood of western Mosul. Prime Minister Al-Abadi gave figures of 1,260 while interviews by AirWars ‘with more than 20 journalists and aid workers who were on the ground in Mosul, both during and immediately after the assault, strongly support the view that many thousands of civilians died.’ AirWars themselves placed a minimum estimate of civilian deaths at 6,200. Intelligence reports from the Kurdistan Regional Government (allies of the United States in the war against ISIS) revealed by The Independent suggest 40,000 were killed in the Siege of Mosul.

Both Iranian and American sponsored militia and army units including the Emergency Response Division of the Ministry of the Interior, members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, and the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces have been involved in atrocities against civilians before and during the war against ISIS. Sunni civilians were terrified of the Ministry of the Interior during the U.S occupation and the Iraq War and the police, little more than militias in uniform (they had close ties to both the Mehdi Army and Badr militia), often shot Sunnis on the spot. Men, women and children were kidnapped, tortured and killed, their mutilated corpses were dumped on streets and into rivers. In 2006, HRW demanded that the Ministry of Interior be held accountable for murdering hundreds of civilians and in 2005 published a report detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners in their custody. In the aftermath of the civil war in 2007, the Sh’ia controlled three-quarters of Baghdad and the city had split into Sunni and Sh’ia enclaves. The ethnic cleansing perpetrated by death-squads between 2005-2007 was not been limited to Baghdad either; according to Frank Ledwidge, Basra’s Sunni population had been reduced from 15% at the beginning of the war (of a population of a million) to an estimated 4% whilst in Al Zubayr, its Sunni population lost about half of its population by 2007. Government officials such as Former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and Brig. Gen. Hameed al-Shimmari, who was in charge of the ministry's security force,  ‘even allowed death squads to use ambulances and government hospitals to carry out kidnappings and killings.’ Both had ties to the Mahdi Army.

Little seems to have changed, and to some extent the situation worsened with the ascension of ISIS. The harrowing eye-witness account of journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad who was imbedded with a unit of Iraqi soldiers in the final days of Mosul’s siege indicates massacres of Sunni civilians and incidences of rape took place as exhausted soldiers of the predominantly Shia-dominated government army took their revenge. Reports by Human Rights Watch and media outlets including Foreign Policy indicate that the Western powers inadvertently provided air support for militias conducting ethnic cleansing in at-least 47 Sunni villages such as Amerli and Suleiman Bek, in the Salah ad-Din province. Massacres by ISIS, the most notorious being the slaughter of 1,700 airforce cadets at Camp Speicher in Tikrit (the hometown of Saddam Hussein), were fresh in the minds of the Iraqi soldiers and Shia paramilitaries whose families and friends had been murdered by ISIS. The Camp Speicher massacre was a harrowing atrocity, and one of multiple mass-killings perpetrated. Over 200 mass graves have been discovered across Iraq according to the United Nations.

“In the name of God, the merciful, I’m one of the survivors from Camp Speicher. I was a soldier at Camp Speicher, in the operations command of the Salahuddin region. I was in my own car, the convoy took a different road, driving toward al Qadisiyyah. When I passed Samarra, I went towards a town called Ishaqi. There were bodies of soldiers on the road. A whole convoy of hummers was burnt up. Then cars appeared and gunman starting firing at me. Then I saw a barricade on the road with no way through. They started to beat me up, then tied up my hands and legs and put me in the boot of my car. When they got me out of the car, I read a sign that said “Ka’b bin Zuhayr School.” They handed me to another group and left. There were 20 to 30 people in each classroom. Those who confessed to being Shia were immediately executed in the toilets. I could hear the sound when they were shot. They have a rule that you must confess yourself. Once I heard that, every time they beat me I said, “I’m Sunni.” They asked me where I came from I answered , “Juf al Sakhar.” I’m from Albu Issa tribe and our chief is Khamis Aifan al Issawi.” Then they left me hanging from the ceiling in one of the classrooms. They came to me on the sixth night and said “Aissaoui, how are you doing? Let him down.” Abu Hajar, a sharia judge, was with him. He said “Are you Aissaoui?” Then he asked them to take off the blindfold. “Who’s ID is this then?” he asked. They had found my ID in my car. They put four of us into a KIA truck. I could smell dead bodies before we arrived. They took two men first and dragged them for 100 meters. I heard “Takbir,” and I knew they had started to behead them. I said to myself, “I will run and let them shoot me rather than behead me.” There was only me and one other man. I pulled my hands out of the cuffs and then he asked me to untie his. I got into my car and once the car moved they started shooting towards us. I didn’t stop and I didn’t look back to see what was behind me. Then I saw a checkpoint. It was a check point for the Iraqi army and volunteer forces.”

Only a few international journalists saw the disaster of ISIS looming as the Syrian Revolution mutated. Less people saw the imminent collapse of the Iraqi army and the Salafi-jihadist group to wash over Iraq as it did, enveloping the majority of the north and west of the country. The collapse of Iraq’s armed forces was one of worst military defeats of the 21st century and it is this subsequent disintegration of the core of the army which enabled the war crimes at Camp Speicher to unfold and wider crimes against humanity to occur across the Nineveh province. President Obama underestimated that threat. "The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant," President Obama said, "I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

According to HRW, the Kurds also committed what could amount to war crimes. On 25 February, 2015, ‘Kurdish forces for months barred Arabs displaced by fighting from returning to their homes in portions of Ninewa and Erbil provinces, while permitting Kurds to return to those areas and even to move into homes of Arabs who fled.’ This was followed by the ejection of Arab populations in Kirkuk when ISIS began attacking the city in October, 2016.

Ali Arkady, a journalist, embedded in combat with the Emergency Response Division which is part of the Ministry of Interior, disclosed photos and video footage of widespread war crimes to ABC News. Arkady was appalled by what he witnessed. Field executions were the norm and torture was encouraged by commanders. Arkady was forced to flee and seek asylum in Europe and now receives death threats for revealing his work to the public. Civilians, often with no connection with extremists, were executed often after being tortured for hours. The ERD were not alone in committing flagrant war crimes. In November, 2016, footage emerged of Popular Mobilisation Forces bearing the insignia of the Iraqi army throwing a boy under a US-made Iraqi tank as the soldiers shouted sectarian slurs. The video footage shocked the Arab Middle East and drew heavy attention on social media under the hashtag #CrushedByATank.

This war crime was not an isolated incident. Evidence of extra-judicial killings and evidence of beheadings carried out by pro-government forces have been reported. On social media, footage emerged of PMF soldiers dashing boys with hammers in Mosul and other incidents of Iraqi soliders beating and insulting children in 2015. As early as 2014, as hysteria swept Baghdad after the fall of Mosul, evidence emerged that paramilitary groups were executing civilians with impunity. Executions at checkpoints, eerily similar to the killings conducted by the Interahamwe death squads in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994, simply because a civilian was a Sunni - something which had happened in communities across Iraq in the aftermath of the Samarri mosque bombing in 2006 returned to Baghdad. In some cases these were retaliations for suicide bombings and atrocities committed by ISIS. In their report Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq, Amnesty International detailed the chilling atrocities of the paramilitaries formed to fight ISIS which included abduction, disappearances, extortion, torture or execution in Kirkuk and Samaraa. On Facebook, Prime Minister Abadi rebuked Amnesty International for condemning the Iraqi government for failing to reign in those responsible for killing civilians. The paramilitary troops and Iraqi units committing the crimes supported by both the West and Iran were no better than ISIS and they published their horrifying footage to social media as gleefully, and perhaps as recklessly, as their foes.

The Sunni rebellion was crushed, but victor’s justice has reigned in the aftermath of the war with ISIS. Execution of ISIS fighters and collaborators by hanging have drawn sharp criticism from human rights organisations. It is unknown how many have been executed but hundreds have certainly died under the hangman’s noose. Much like the hangings of 1969 accused of being spies for the Israelis, many of these confessions were extracted through intimidation and torture. As with the many Sunni civilians butchered by Iraqi soldiers, many had no connections with ISIS, tarring every Sunni and Salafi under the same brush of ISIS and ‘terrorist’ is a dangerous ploy and does little to repair the damage of over a decade of civil war and violence between Iraq’s Shia and Sunni communities, particularly when many Sunni tribes fought against ISIS. The prescription of execution engenders resentment, not reconciliation. Saddam’s execution in 2006 was the most dramatic example of this as the former president became the clearest symbol of strength for disenfranchised Sunnis in the Middle East. This was compounded by Saddam Hussein's closest allies being hung, including his half-brother Barzan who was decapitated during a disastrous execution.

The mass hangings of ISIS insurgents, terrorists and foreign fighters, while legal under Iraqi law, sends out a hostile message to those they have defeated, particularly when many are either innocent or have not been given a fair trail under the 2005 Counter-Terrorism Law. The Camp Speicher massacre, as with others, committed by ISIS and other paramilitary groups have deeply damaged Iraq. The war crime, alongside crimes against humanity committed against Iraq’s minorities such as the Yezidis, will leave a lasting mark of the country for decades. Other massacres occurred across Iraq, predominantly committed by ISIS, however it is evident that other such war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by other sides in the conflicts in Iraq since 2003. The length of time in which the country has involved in conflict is considerable. Nearly 40 years of war have tested the resilience of its civilians and exacted an inhumane cost on the population and different communities. From Al-Anfal to the Shabban Intifada to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad to Camp Speicher, there are multiple atrocities which have occurred Iraq - like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Uganda, Mexico, Burundi, El Salvador and the Congo - is a country of mass graves. Post-conflict politicisation of the memory of war is likely given that the conflict will continue to fester much like the case of Lebanon during the 1990s.

Threats to stability?

At great cost ISIS has been defeated, between 90,583–128,489 perished and five million were displaced. Half a million died between 2003 - 2011 in the Iraq War and subsequent occupation. Other studies have argued that it is over one million. Iraq’s Nakba has decimated the country and the civil war will leave an enduring scar on Iraqi society for generations to come. Now, the political struggle for post-Saddam Iraq continues. For the victors, including President Obama’s coalition, the Kurdish Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the political and economic struggle for the country has intensified. Several overlapping crises have threatened to push Iraq back into violence.

Alongside the unresolved grievances of many within the Sunni community, there is the challenge of the Iraqi Kurds and the minority communities. Like their counterparts in Turkey, Syria and Iran, their fortunes have been mixed since the Arab Revolutions and Iraq War began. Military setbacks against Turkey in Syria and Iraq, intra-factional rivalries, social and economic problems, a poorly timed referendum as well as the humiliating loss of Kirkuk have cost the Kurds dearly in their quest for statehood. These defeats, political and military, have reversed many of the gains the Kurdistan Regional Government made in post-Saddam Iraq.

Similarly, the situation for minorities in Iraq in post-Saddam Iraq has been catastrophic. The Christian communities, once 1.4 million has shrunk to 400,000. The Mandeneans community has been reduced from 60,000 to less than 5000 as most were forced to flee during the disastrous years of the American occupation and lawlessness of post-Saddam Iraq. Assyrians, Shabak, and Turkmens were also displaced by ISIS’s destruction. The plight of the Yezidis in 2014 encapsulated the failure of both the Western powers, the Iranians and the Iraqi government to protect minorities. Not since the exodus of Iraq’s 120,000 - 130,000 Jewish population in the 1950s have minorities experienced such a reduction in numbers. The remaining 10,000 fled during the persecution which followed the Six Day War and after the Iraq War, it may now be a handful.

The Yezidis were targeted in Al-Anfal by Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid during which 50,000 - 100,000 Kurdish men, women and children were wiped out in the genocidal campaign in the 1980s. However during the Iraq War, the Yezidis position became increasingly precarious, more so then under Saddam Hussein. Tit for tat violence between Sunni and Yezidis began to worsen after the killing of Dua Khalil Aswad in April, 2007. Dua was a Yezidi woman who wanted to marry a Sunni man, Mohamed in the town of Bashika. The olive green hills of the town, which locals from Mosul used as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Iraq’s second largest city became the centre of a blood-feud. Al-Qa’ida in Iraq and ISIS, including other extremist groups began to target the Yezidis. Mere weeks after Dua’s death, twenty-three civilians were lined up against a wall in northern Mosul and shot. They were all Yezidis, who had been instructed by the men who stopped the bus to separate from the Muslims and Christians. The campaign against the Yezidis culminated in the sixth worst terrorist attack in modern history when four coordinated suicide bombs flattened the villages of Qahtaniyah (Til Ezer) and Jazeera killing between 500 and 800 people. This occurred during the so-called successful counterinsurgency campaign of General Petreaus. While Petreaus acknowledged that “civilian deaths remain(ed) at an unacceptable levels,” weeks after the bombings took place, his arguments that “the security situation in Iraq (was) improving" were fantastical.

This is especially true when ISIS upgraded to genocide in 2014 under Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi slaughtering men and women, the elderly, children and piled them into mass-graves. ISIS militants rounded up and massacred Yezidi men and boys in and around Sinjar and its surrounding villages Kocho, Qiniyeh, Jadali and Jazeera. Yezidis who refused to pledge loyalty to Baghdadi and to convert to Islam were executed at roadsides, prison centres and along the roadsides where refugees fleeing for Mt. Sinjar were intercepted by ISIS vehicles. Yezidi women and children were abducted in their hundreds as personal prizes for jihadist fighters and subjected to rape or sexual abuse, forced to marry fighters, or sold into sexual slavery. 830,000 people were displaced and fled ISIS in the wake of the cleansing operations. The entire Yezidi population in Iraq was displaced and 40,000-50,000 fled to Mt. Sinjar, historically a place of refuge for the community during conflict. Acts of vengeance were likely given the bad blood between the Arabs and Yezidis. In December, 2017, Yezidis of the Lalish Brigades and the Ezidkhan Brigades (units within the Population Mobilisation Forces) were accused of killing 52 Arab men, women and children.

Intra-Shia rivalries, the primary victors in the war with ISIS, could threaten the fragile post-conflict environment. Haider Al-Abadi has been unable to tackle corruption in Iraq and as Alaaldin notes “tokenistic anti-corruption initiatives failed to convince Iraqis who are impatient with piecemeal, symbolic reforms.” The protests in Basra in recent weeks are the latest example of this and their have been multiple The storming of the Green Zone and occupation of Parliament by protestors in 2016 illustrated that social issues, not just the threat of ISIS threatened Iraq’s stability. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, the world’s most powerful army failed on these issues as electricity was in short supply during the occupation, water became undrinkable across entire areas of the country, malnutrition rates soared, healthcare collapsed and unemployment soared largely thanks to the dismantling of what remained of the public sector and demobilising the armed forces. The problems became so severe that conditions were worse than those under Saddam. The economic woes of Iraq and the bruising political landscape could create problems between the Shia parties and paramilitary groups as Alaadin analyses. His thoughts are worth quoting in length:

“The PMF is ascending so rapidly that it could soon subsume Iraq’s conventional armed forces. Tensions have intensified between Abadi (the commander in chief of the armed forces) and the Iranian-backed leadership of the PMF. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Brigade and de facto head of the PMF, has allegedly warned U.S. Special Envoy Brett McGurk that he would topple any government formed as a result of U.S. interference. the PMF has warned the Iraqi military against interfering in the divisive politics that has engulfed the country. The Iraqi military would almost certainly lose a fight with the PMF and its Shiite militias, which are now amalgamated under one banner and are no longer disparate and ragtag groups as they were a decade ago. These groups have made a radical transformation into viable, credible, and battle-hardened sociopolitical movements. The PMF is not only better trained and disciplined than the military but, critically, it enjoys far more legitimacy and support from the population on account of its battlefield successes and grassroots origins. The army, by contrast, is heir to a tainted history and widely perceived as corrupt and ineffective.”

With Sadr in the ascendance with a coalition of Islamists, communists and secular groups and the increasing strength of Hadi al-Ameri, whose paramilitary Badr Brigade formed the backbone of the Iraqi army in the war against ISIS, it is unlikely that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi will remain leader much longer. It must also not be forgotten that the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces have clashed before and during the Iraq War.


Conflict in post-ISIS, despite decades of heavy violence, is not inevitable. The five day crisis in Kirkuk in 2017 was violent, but by Iraq’s standards of violence it did not escalate into a direct war between the government and the Kurdish peshmerga as the latter conceded the oil fields there to the government. The Kurdish peshmerga did not have the strength to fight the well-armed government forces. Similarly, contrary to their efforts to contain Iranian influence in the country and the wider Middle East, decades of Western policy-making to bring the country into its sphere have had the opposite effect of creating a secular, pro-Western Iraq or curbing Iranian influence in parliament.

While it is a gross oversimplification to state that Iran pulls all the strings in Iraq’s Shia community and the rest of the country, the Western powers have alienated all three main contenders for power in Iraq in the Fourth Gulf War. The multiple war crimes perpetrated against the Sunni population could become a multi-generational trauma for them and the Trump administration’s turning a blind eye to the plight of the Kurds in Afrin, Syria and Kirkuk (a miscalcuation by Kurdish leaders) could breed resentment towards the West amongst separatists. As for the Shia, the 2018 Iraqi elections and their outcome so far have not been favourable to the Western powers.

Corruption and misuse of Iraq’s resources and finances have scuppered trust between the kleptocracy in the Green Zone and the wider population. Once the atrocities of the ERD and Golden Division are factored into the equation, a chasm has opened up between those in power and broke Iraqis trust in the multiple malfunctioning institutions within government. This has empowered nationalists and populists such as Muqtada al-Sadr who holds much sway over the impoverished Shia underclass in Basra and Sadr City. In September, 2018, The Times wrote that ‘Mr Abadi said he would no longer “cling to power” after losing the backing of al-Sadr’ who was the predominant victor in the elections in May. Despite Muqtada Al-Sadr being tarred as a ‘firebrand cleric’ during the Iraq War by propagandists and the incompetent Paul Bremer who oversaw the Coalition Provisional Authority, it is clear that this oversimplifies the man.

Social issues rather than security issues have defined the country’s politics in 2018 and as the war with ISIS has turned into counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations, economic challenges such as corruption, access to electricity and water and post-conflict reconstruction have been in the ascendance. The fact that social issues (despite their severity), rather than issues of conflict have been the focus of elections is in itself a victory for the people of Iraq and as Patrick Cockburn has noted, “Iraq is now suffering less violence than at any time since the US invasion of 2003. Better still, the country may be coming to the end of a 40-year period of foreign and civil wars.” 

Iraq remains a country and despite the brutality of sectarian and ethnic violence since the turn of the century, and the fragility and dramatic changes which have defined post-Saddam Iraq, cautious optimism should remain. Like Lebanon, Iraq has been radically altered by civil war and foreign intervention, and like Lebanon, the risk of violence and renewed conflict will remain high due to the turbulent nature and revolutionary currents sweeping the Middle East. However, while crisis will probably occur, neither the United States or Iran will desire another full-scale war in Iraq given that it is already enveloped in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.

The trillions expended by the Western powers on Iraq have largely been wasted in an efforts to create a pro-Western sponsor and in turn the U.S and Britain have inflicted untold destruction and misery on the Iraqi people for almost a century. the future of the 10,000 American troops and military contractors in Iraq, though a Sadrist spokesman said after the election that US training and the weapons procurement from the US could continue. As Cockburn wrote in May, 2018, ‘Mr Sadr’s influence over an incoming government in Baghdad puts in doubt the future of the 10,000 American troops and military contractors in Iraq, though a Sadrist spokesman said after the election that US training and the weapons procurement from the US could continue.’ However, their fears of a Iraq becoming an Iranian proxy are often overstated.

There is a difference between fighting well and ruling a country, and Saddam, the Americans, the British and the Ottomans all struggled to control Iraq. The PMF will struggle to govern an embittered, de-facto occupied Mosul and after all the atrocities it has committed will struggle to establish legitimacy both in the eyes of the international community, the Sunni tribes it has alienated and its seizure of Kirkuk from the Kurds, nor will they find support from American bombs as it did in the war against ISIS. Iraqi Shia’s fought in the Iran-Iraq War against Iranian forces and Iraqis are often as hostile to Iranian meddling in the country’s political affairs as they are towards the Western powers. Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Iraq which included visits by Muqtada Al-Sadr and Prime Minister Abadi to the Gulf State shows this.

According to The Financial Times, ‘Flights with Riyadh were restarted and the signing of 18 memoranda of understanding for oil and gas projects was initiated and the Gulf States pledged $3.5 billion towards reconstruction of Iraq.’ The Saudis are bitter rivals of Tehran’s Islamic government and Sadr, far from being an Iranian proxy has always presented himself as a nationalist opposed to direct interference in Iraq’s political affairs, be it Iran or the United States while Ali Al-Sistani, one of Iraq’s most influential Shia clerics has maintained back channels with Riyadh. As Salah al-Obaidi, a Najaf cleric and relative of Mr Sadr said in The Financial Times, “We really don’t want Iraq to end up as the rubbish bin of a regional Iranian-American-Saudi dispute.”

Use of soft-power and building up a strong Iraq could counter Western fears of a pro-Tehran Iraq emerging from the war with ISIS. Furthermore, as Erika Solomon analyses in The Financial Times,“Tehran’s attempt to unify several Shia political blocs to reinforce its position in the country ahead of Iraq’s May parliamentary elections, fell apart within days. “That incident shows us [not to] believe people who say Iran controls everything,” says one western diplomat. “The big card they play is — look, we will always be there for you.”

The future of Iraq still remains very uncertain and precarious, and the country could be beset by crises for decades to come.It is undisputed that American, Iranian and Saudi power-playing has exacerbated sectarian violence in Iraq and continues to do so by simplifying Iraq’s interdependent relationship between nationalities and sect identities. The results have at times turned Iraq into a modern Yemen or Pakistan, ungovernable and inherently unstable. However, after nearly 40 years of warfare and nearly a century of coups, poor governance, foreign interference and colonial rule, there could be hope for the Iraqi people after so much bloodshed and suffering. It is at this critical juncture in the wake of ISIS’s defeat, that post-conflict Iraq could have a chance to recover, but it only through effective leadership and regional and international efforts that this can become a reality.