AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP – Getty Images
Atheel al-Nujaifi, who was Nineveh governor when the provincial capital Mosul was captured in 2014, says: “We are back to where we were before Mosul fell, (because) there is an idea among the hardline Shi’ite leadership to keep the liberated areas as loose areas, with no (local) political leadership, or security organizations, so they can control them”.
Moderate Shi’ite leaders, among whom he counts Abadi, are wary of a winner-take-all logic of victory, fearing this “could lead to the creation of radicalism again and they know this would destroy not only Iraq but the Shi’ites”.
The problem, he believes, is that Iraqi Shi’ism is badly fractured, helping Iran control almost all its factions.
The former governor, a Sunni who now has at his command an armed force trained by Turkey, says he is bowing out of office but not politics. He acknowledges there is a lack of mainstream Sunni leaders, but blames Baghdad for making sure none emerges.
Whither the Sunnis?
Talk of Kurdish secession has sparked discussion of whether Sunni Arabs should set up a separate state, though most officials say this is not practical, because: Sunni territory lacks the oil base the Shi’ites and Kurds have; the experience of ISIS would hover like a specter over any new entity; and Sunnis are too intermingled across Iraq.
Some Sunni and Kurdish leaders believe one solution is to make Mosul a self-governing region like Kurdistan, with smaller units of self-rule to accommodate the plethora of minorities, which they say is permitted by the constitution.
“Before, the Sunnis were very sensitive to believing (devolution) would lead to secession, to the breakup of Iraq but now they’re coming to terms with it,” says Zebari.
The Sunnis are not the only ones who repudiate Baghdad’s Shi’ite-dominated government. The northern Kurdish region has called a referendum to move from autonomous self-rule to an independent state.
Kurdish leader Barzani told Reuters timing for independence after the vote was “flexible but not open-ended”.
Yet there is growing concern the real purpose of the referendum is not immediate secession, but to strengthen Kurdish claims over the disputed territories, such as the oil-rich region and city of Kirkuk, whose future has been in play for over a decade.