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Islamic State's Gains Spur Worries Of A Splintering Iraq

An Iraqi family who fled the city of Ramadi after it was seized by Islamic State militants, gathers inside their tent at a camp for the internally displaced in Amriyat al-Fallujah, 30 kilometers south of Fallujah, on May 22.
An Iraqi family who fled the city of Ramadi after it was seized by Islamic State militants, gathers inside their tent at a camp for the internally displaced in Amriyat al-Fallujah, 30 kilometers south of Fallujah, on May 22.

As the Islamic State takes over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, political leaders from Washington to Baghdad and the Arabian peninsula worry that Iraq is in danger of splintering into pieces.

"The time has come to accept that you can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The old multiethnic Iraq is over," Richard Haas, a former senior U.S. diplomat, told Bloomberg television May 22.

It is unrealistic to treat Iraq as a single country, as it is irrevocably splintering into three parts -- Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite, said Haas, who is currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The bottom line remains: The strategy isn't working and it can't work," he said, contending Washington in the future will have to channel military aid directly to local forces without working through the dysfunctional central government in Baghdad.

Surprisingly, he got support from a deputy prime minister of Iraq -- Kurdish politician Rowsch Shaways.

Shaways told the World Economic Forum in Jordan May 22 that the country could conceivably break up. He said the only way for Iraq to prosper as a unified state is if Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish areas truly run their own affairs.

Other Iraqi leaders at the conference agreed that the current strategy of U.S.-led air strikes aiding Iraqi ground forces doesn't seem to be working but held out hope that Iraq will still be able to gather its forces together and prevail against the advancing militant group.

"The air strikes don't solve the problem," said Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi, calling for a new strategy.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq called the fall of the strategically important city of Ramadi a "big disaster" and appealed for a "new strategic plan" for Iraqi and international coalition forces to "terminate" the militants.

But he admitted in an interview with the Associated Press that he doesn't know what to do, and "the capacity of the Iraqis is very limited."

Republicans in the U.S. Congress and on the 2016 presidential campaign trail are calling for a greater commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq -- something leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ruled out May 22.

Senator John McCain said Obama should deploy more special forces and stage more raids similar to an operation a week ago in which U.S. commandos killed an Islamic State financier in eastern Syria.

The elite special forces could be "forward deployed" across the battlefront to help call in air strikes, assist Iraqi troops, and hunt down jihadist commanders, the Arizona Republican argued.

"What we desperately need is a comprehensive strategy, the decisive application of an increased but still limited amount of U.S. military power, and a concerted effort by the Iraqi government to recruit, train, and equip Sunni forces," McCain said.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the economic forum that political leaders have to take a strong stand against Islamic extremism, which is spreading throughout the region.

Condemning "fanaticism," Sissi said radicals "are seeking through terrorism to destroy state structures and to fragment people by exploiting religious, sectarian, or ethnic affiliations."

But he said political leaders cannot fight extremism on the battlefield alone.

"Our efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism must be coupled with endeavors toward realizing a future where freedom, equality, and pluralism prevail and that is free of oppression, injustice, and exclusion," he said.

With reporting by Bloomberg, AP, and AFP
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