Long beset by toxic divisions, Iraq seems to be growing even more fragmented ahead of national elections scheduled for May, with Iranian influence set to grow and the minority Sunnis seething as they fend for themselves in areas of the country shattered by the three-year war against the Islamic State group. The Sunnis, many of them in displacement camps, bore the brunt of the war’s destruction and have been left so bereft that many don’t even have the papers needed to register to vote. If they don’t end up feeling the vote was fair, that could badly undermine the international community’s goal of bringing about the more inclusive government critical to maintaining a unified state and avoiding a repeat of the IS disaster.
Adding to the volatile mix are the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, now even more politically involved, which are allied with but not controlled by the Shiite-led Baghdad government, and appear set to gain influence that would alarm many in the region trying to check the power of Shiite, non-Arab Iran.
If divisions among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds persist they could lead to more protracted talks to form a new government, potentially delaying the colossal task of rebuilding Iraq after IS overran nearly a third of the country in 2014, mostly Sunni towns, and then hung on as a U.S.-led coalition surrounded and bombarded the areas they controlled.