Iraq is living dangerously
The defeat of IS in Mosul will uncover a range of festering political grievances
Sunnis, along with Christians, Turkomens and Yazidis, are wondering which of the liberating forces will remain in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq when Islamic State (IS) fighters have left. A key factor in the rise of IS was the marginalisation of Iraq's Sunnis during the Nouri al-Maliki premiership of federal Iraq. His successor, Haider al-Abadi, has sought to accommodate Sunnis, but with only limited success. Sunnis remain isolated from the key positions in Iraqi political life, and see no willingness on the part of the dominant Shia leadership in Baghdad to share power equitably.
Therefore, the defeat of IS in Mosul and elsewhere will not eradicate Sunnis' resentment at their exclusion. While most Sunnis don't approve of the extreme ideology of IS or its brutal measures they are likely to be attracted to other groups that might emerge to fight for their cause.
Of particular concern to many Iraqis is the future role of al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the coalition of Iranian-backed Shia militias. Last July, Abadi announced that the militias would be incorporated into the armed forces, thus reinforcing Shia participation in Iraq's military. Even in the Shia-dominated south of the country, there is unease about these developments. Federal parliament member Mazin al-Mazini said the presence of the militias in Basra represented "one of the main causes of instability in the province". This issue is adding to the growing calls in southern Iraq for greater independence from Baghdad and, being the key oil-producing and exporting region, for a bigger share of national oil revenue.
Al-Hashd al-Shaabi is also seeking to play a political role, as Hizbollah does in Lebanon. While the Iraqi constitution forbids military groups from doing this, the militias appear to be giving their support to Maliki, intensifying the battle for power among Shia factions, with parliamentary elections due early next year.
Then there is the sensitive question of Kirkuk. When the IS surge was underway in 2014, the Peshmerga took over Kirkuk and its oilfields—one of the disputed regions awaiting a political agreement between Baghdad and Erbil under the terms of the federal constitution. But the Kurds insist that Kirkuk is historically theirs and will not surrender it, seeing it as part of a future independent Kurdish state.
The Kurdish flag has recently been raised over official buildings in Kirkuk and the main political parties have formed a committee to fix an independence referendum date. These moves could see the Kurds crossing two dangerous red lines, one drawn by the federal government in Baghdad, the other by Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government's key energy partner and the country through which its oil exports pass.
Another threat to Kirkuk's oil stability comes from intra-Kurdish disputes, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls security in the city, resentful at the Kurdish Democratic Party's (KDP) hold on the region's energy sector. In early March, PUK forces briefly halted Kirkuk exports. Iraq,in its various guises, is indeed living dangerously.