Hope for the Future: Iraq

According to this recent VOX article, there is hope of recovery for failing states such as Iraq. Iraq, which has been occupied by ISIS in several areas and cities, experienced a recent victory over ISIS: forces pushed ISIS out of the city of Tikrit in March, signaling a key defeat for Iraqi forces.

The defeat is key for a few reasons; first, it inspires hope for future victories over ISIS. According to Beauchamp, “ISIS’s current strategy depends on taking, holding, and governing territory;” the victory in Tikrit is a direct attack on that strategy and demonstrates that it is possible to defeat ISIS on their own territory. Tikrit is also of strategic importance to reaching the city of Musul, currently held by ISIS, and the new victory provides a route to reaching Musul.

Of potentially larger importance, as Iraq is a failed state, is that the victory was a result of not only nongovernmental militias, but also of US backed Iraqi police. Iraqi forces are now effectively involved in the fight against ISIS; Iraq no longer depends on outside organizations for its defense and offensive attacks. Though they are still US backed, the Iraqi government and forces are beginning to act and support themselves to effect change and aid security in their country. As a failing state, this is a large step forward in recovering.

As Beauchamp writes, there are still many difficulties ahead for Iraq; they may have regained the city of Tikrit, but now they must retain it and continue to make advances. ISIS is known to retake liberated areas that are not strongly under control; Iraq must keep Tikrit under their firm control. There is also the issue of resolving the problems that allowed ISIS to advance into Iraq to begin, which were mostly political problems. Iraq has a majority Sunni population, yet the government is controlled by Shias. ISIS, as a Sunni group, has exploited the differences between Iraq’s Sunni population and Shia government to instill greater weakness and insert itself into the state. Iraq’s government must become legitimate to the Sunni population to prevent ISIS from reasserting itself in cities such as Tikrit. To have a lasting victory, the government must be legitimate and functioning, and, as the efforts of the Iraqi police show in Tikrit, this may become a possibility.

While ISIS has exploited the weaknesses and divisions that Iraq has as a failing state, Iraq is slowly proving that with help it can begin to overcome those weaknesses. Failing states pose innumerable problems, but if those problems are approached correctly progress can be made. In Iraq, that means addressing the legitimacy of the government and making sure that it can function independently. For other failing states, the first step towards progress may be different, but Iraq is proof that it is possible for a failing state to begin moving in the direction of recovery and security.

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