Events in Iraq are developing too fast, and the Iraqi crisis might break out into a much wider sectarian conflict that draws in Saudi Arabia and Iran, international relations expert from Warwick University Osman Hassan, told RT.
RT: Militants from ISIS are closing in on Baghdad. How bad is this?
Osman Hassan: It’s quite dramatic in a sense that what you would find is that if sectarianism spills out onto the streets of Baghdad it is going to be incredibly hard to contain because you will have Sunnis and Shia fighting each other.
RT: Washington is sending a small contingent of troops to Iraq. How far will America go to deal with sectarian tensions there?
OH: The sectarian tensions in Iraq are part of a logical war going on between Iran and the Gulf states, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. So the US can send a protection force to protect its embassies and it can try to deal with sectarianism in Iraq, but unless it gets on top of this wider regional conflict and namely starts to deal with its allies in the Gulf and stop them from spreading sectarian hype, then really events in Iraq are going to spill over into a wider regional conflict.
RT: The UK says it will re-open its embassy in Tehran, and Washington admitted it could use some help from Iran too. Why is Tehran key here?
OH: If you look back to 2003, Tehran was actually quite active in its support for the reconstruction after the Iraq war but they were spurned by the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration was very keen to ignore their efforts. In this regard getting Tehran on board to try and help to decrease the sectarian tensions is fundamental. But at the same time if the US does go down that road, it needs to be very wary of the fact that Iranian involvement is actually one of the key issues that has helped to alienate the Sunni population in Iraq in the first place. So it is very difficult balancing that with what the US needs to pursue.
RT: The UN warned today that Iraq could be on the brink of a much wider sectarian war. If Western powers don't invade again, what can be done to stop the bloodshed?
OH: At this point in time the only way you can stop this is to recognize that it’s not just ISIL (ISIS, as it’s also being called) as extremists in Iraq. You have also got eighty other Sunni Arab tribes made up under a military council of tribes of Iraq. So you need to recognize that there is a much wider variety of actors, whose interests are all aligned together and they are now working with ISIL and extremists, whereas previously they have actually helped to protect the Iraqi government. In that sense one of the first steps needs to be to get those forces that have joined up with ISIS back on side with the Iraqi government, get the Maliki government to really recognize the way in which it promotes the sectarianism is inappropriate and actually incredibly damaging. In that way there needs to be a much wider regional approach and a much more nuanced approach if these problems cannot be dealt with.
RT: Were you surprised that the Iraqi army and its government were completely impotent against the militants and let vast areas be captured?
OH: Not at all. Basically, the US Army intelligence forces are pretty much saying that this was effectively going to happen in Congressional hearings. I think the speed of this has been a surprise but this has been going on now since December 2013.
RT: The Iraqi Prime Minister has defied Western calls to reach out to Sunnis and is accusing Saudi Arabia of promoting genocide in Iraq. Is Maliki willing and able to fight to the end?
OH: That’s a difficult question in a sense that it would really depend on how well the Iranians are able to influence the Shia militias there, as well as what is actually going on the ground in terms of Shia recruitment of those militias. At this point of time I do not think it is clear exactly what is happening. And the events are happening way too fast for us to actually follow what is going on. So in that sense you have got a scenario where it is very possible that the Maliki government could fall and Iraq will break out into a much wider sectarian conflict that draws in Saudi Arabia and Iran.
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