Once again recent developments in Iraq have created grave implications for the larger Middle East. Yesterday’s fall of Mosul vividly shows that Iraq as we have perceived it in the past no longer exists. In the north, the Kurdish region has become semi-autonomous, and it will not be long before it declares independence. Iraq is entering into a deadly sectarian conflict that has seen Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seize Mosul, Tikrit, Falluja and Ramadi. But the situation is symptomatic of a deeper malaise: sectarianism mixed with Islamic radicalism which has produced a lethal virus that is spreading across the region.
As the US retreats into a isolationist mode, the virus appears to be mutating into a more lethal form. Iraq could be a precursor to what awaits Afghanistan once the US army begin their pullout at the end of the year. An emboldened Taliban could plunge Afghanistan into chaos and civil war reminiscent of the 1990s. This in turn would further exacerbate the jihadi onslaught across the region. This is occuring because the US has failed to assist the formation of inclusive, democratic regional governments and is now looking for an easy way out.
For the sake of regional security and to prevent groups like the ISIS from making further inroads into the region the US must develop a clear strategy for the long-term stability of Iraq. This could create a modus vivendi with Iran to stabilise the situation in Iraq through a balancing of sectarian forces. Further, Washington must rework its withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan, giving the next Afghanistan government more time to consolidate their institutions. Having created this mess, the US simply can’t walk away from it now.