news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | June 28, 2014 | 09:23 am IST

He has travelled to almost every corner of the world by road, rail, boat and scooter. In 1960 he went around Italy in a Lambretta, in 1985 he reached the world’s hightest road past Leh into Kardungla. Probably one of the most widely travelled Bangaloreans, Mr. Ramiah Ramchandra, a former UN official, tells Alankrita Anand about Iraq where he was once posted and a country whose politics he has followed closely. We bring you excerpts from a wide-ranging conversation about the country, the people, its importance for India and more.

History: In Mr. Ramachandra’s words, Iraq is an ‘artificial state’. He says so because it was created to begin with. At the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, the ‘State of Iraq’ was created as a League of Nations mandate under British control. It was a monarchy and the ruler, King Faisal I, had been forced out of Syria by the French and belonged to the minority (and elite) Sunni community. The British eventually granted freedom to Iraq in 1932 but a war ensued between them during World War II, but a military operation restored the monarchy.

Iraq finally became a republic in 1958 with a coup known as the 14th July Revolution. The Ba’ath Party came to power in 1968 with Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr as the President of Iraq but eventually Saddam Hussein took over the RCC- the supreme executive body.

As a state, Iraq was never born out of a nationalist movement, hence- an artificial state.

The Saddam Regime: Under the Saddam regime, the First Gulf War (Iraq-Iran), the Second Gulf War (Iraq-Kuwait) and the Al-Anfal Campaign- the genocide aimed at Kurds (also Sunnis) took place. But from what Mr.Ramachandra tells us, Saddam was a largely non-sectarian person. He was a dictator first. 

Post-Saddam: In the more recent years, the country has been ruled by the Shi’a majority that largely occupies the area south of Baghdad. The Sunnis mostly occupy the area north of Baghdad and the Kurds inhabit the northern-most part of the country. The current government, which is largely a Shi’a one does have Sunni representation as well. However, it is believed that because it was ‘installed’ after elections conducted by the United States, it only gives a token representation to Sunnis to satisfy US interests. The US interests in protecting the interests of the Sunnis comes from its strategic ‘partnership’ with Saudi Arabia (a Sunni country).

ISIL: The ISIL, which is causing the current unrest in Iraq, is an extremist Islamist organization that wants to create Muslim rule in Iraq and Syria and then eventually expand from there. Its coffers are believed to be filled by groups in Saudi Arabia and also bank loots from Mosul- a city that they have taken control over.

But the downfall of the ISIL is likely to come from its change in approach- from being a rebel organization, it now wants to turn administrator. And this is where it may not gain supporters because not all Muslims, not even all Sunnis want to live under an extremist regime. Such extreme politics will invite opposition and lead to unrest. Moreover, a power struggle could emerge within the organization’s leadership.

US involvement: The United States, which has sent military advisors to Iraq to resolve the crisis is unlikely to involve itself further and definitely not through military intervention. It will not do so in keeping with its interests in remaining on friendly terms with Saudi Arabia.

Indians stranded in Iraq: A large chunk of ISIL militants are those who once belonged to the Saddam Army which had been dissolved. Saddam Hussein, during his rule, maintained a rather friendly relationship with India. His support to India during the Bangladesh War is an example to illustrate that. So, Ramachandra feels that the ISIL will not harm the Indians stranded in Iraq, or for that matter any other minority group. They have been imposing road taxes on Christians, Shia’s and other minorities in their strongholds but the larger aim is administration now, not violence. 

But of course, any effort by the Indian government to being back its citizens or ensure their safety is further complicated by the fact that many of them are not registered with the Indian Embassy there. 

Oil: The parts of Iraq where its oil deposits are found have not been affected by the turmoil. A lot of these areas are occupied by the Kurds. But the Iraq government might lose one of its biggest refineries- Baiji in Tikrit which has fallen to the ISIL. If national supplies are threatened, the government could raise the price of oil exports as a consequence.

Mr. Ramachandra believes that the crisis will fizzle out in another 10-15 days. If not, the crisis can only aggravate. 

(Views expressed by Ramaiah Ramachandra are personal)

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