The Iraqi Shia Post-ISIS Caliphate

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The Center for Global Policy’s Director of Governance in Muslim-Majority States program, Dr. Kamran Bokhari, sat down with Geneive Abdo to discuss the status of Iraq's majority Shia community in the aftermath of the collapse of the ISIS Caliphate. Ms. Abdo, a prominent Middle East expert, is currently Resident Scholar at the Arabia Foundation where she specializes in political Islam and Iranian geopolitics. She is also a lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and the author of four books, including The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi’a-Sunni Divide. Abdo says that the major political movement in Iraq is toward independence and getting foreign influence -- whether from the United States or Iran -- out of the country. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is playing a role in that. However, other senior Iraqi clerics fear that Iran will try to push in when the elderly al-Sistani dies. Abdo says that al-Sistani’s successor likely will be a younger figure and someone who is forward-looking and capable of focusing on creating an independent Iraqi state. ISIS, also known as Daesh, had been pushed out of Iraq, but Abdo says there is “overwhelming evidence” that ISIS is making a comeback in Iraq. A Daesh resurgence in Iraq would empower the Iranian-supported Hashd al-Shaabi militias, though many Iraqi Shia do not want those militias to gain influence. Moreover, Abdo says that around 100,000 displaced Sunnis have not returned home after the ISIS occupation, and the Iraqi government has washed its hands of the situation. These disenfranchised Sunnis are ideal recruits for groups like ISIS, Abdo says. Though the country’s political situation is a delicate one, Abdo says she believes that Iraqis will unite in the face of ISIS to prevent the group from taking over as much of the country as before. She says she has a strong sense that Iraqis want to prevent further violence because they have lived with violence for 17 years.

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