The future of Iraq will be informed by the interaction between four significant geopolitical axes, a Wikistrat report released today argues. What Wikistrat calls the “New Mesopotamia” will be shaped by the radical Sunnis, the Shi’a, the Kurds and the world powers.
Last week, Wikistrat ran a two-day speed simulation in which its analysts were asked to identify and explore the geopolitical axes that are likely to emerge in Iraq over the next two years, and to forecast a range of scenarios for how each axis will shape the region.
Rather than exploring the region’s dynamics from the perspective of the Iraqi state, the simulation looked at four significant geopolitical axes — each represents a system of actors sharing similar values and objectives regarding its future.
In the report released today, Wikistrat Senior Analyst Jeffrey Itell argues that Iraq has essentially broken down into three component parts that are relatively homogenous in ethnic and religious terms. Each is capable enough to defend its territory but too weak to encroach on any of the others.
The radical Sunni axis is concentrated between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and seeks to carve out a polity that stretches from what is now Syria to the gates of Baghdad. While some factions within this axis are backed by the Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf, the more extreme elements, notably the Islamist group ISIS that took Iraq’s second city, Mosul, earlier this month, lack foreign support. As a whole, it is therefore unlikely to be able to menace the Shi’a heartland in the southeast of Iraq.
Lacking popular support for its purist interpretation of Islam, Wikistrat predicts ISIS will also struggle to govern a landlocked “Mesopotamian Caliphate”. Repeated rounds of internecine conflict and suppression within the Sunni axis are likely. Two years from now, Iraq’s Sunni heartland may look just as complicated as Syria’s.
Despite the ideological weight and tangible firepower that Iran could bring to the conflict, the Shi’a axis is at the same time hard pressed to reassert authority over the Sunni heartland. Its priority will be protecting Baghdad (now a mostly Shi’a city), the oil sector and its critical infrastructure, religious sites (which ISIS has threatened to target) and the majority Shi’a population from Basra to the capital.
Finally, the Kurds are a threat to neither and pose little threat to neighboring Iran and Turkey. Indeed, with strong revenues, a coherent government, a robust security force and additional autonomy from Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stands to serve as a northern Sunni buffer from the jihadist turmoil in Mesopotamia.
Wikistrat believes the consolidation of Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian Kurds under one state or even a push for independence by Iraqi Kurds is unlikely in the short term. Political and cultural differences among the various Kurdish groups will forestall unification while the KRG is more likely to develop its economy, solidify its commercial relationship with Turkey and ensure that its autonomy is made irreversible.
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