United in the fight against Nazi Germany, the United States and the USSR were staunch allies. However, once the Third Reich was vanquished, it was a matter of mere months before tensions started to rise between the two powers.
The lesson to be drawn from this history is that without a guiding, unifying purpose, coalitions begin to fracture quickly. At the moment, we’re watching this happen in real time with our coalition in Iraq.
Our coalition to fight the Islamic State group is a combination of NATO and Iraqi forces, Shiite militias and Kurdish fighters called the Peshmerga, among others. This group is a kaleidoscope of actors with different and often contradicting goals and interests, but because of the vile nature of the Islamic State group, they are able to cooperate in the fight against a common enemy.
Fortunately, the common enemy is on its last legs. Recently, the Islamic State group de facto capital, Raqqa, fell to American-backed Syrian fighters. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recognized the hard work and sacrifices of those forces who retook the city and dealt a significant blow to the terrorist group.
Unfortunately, this has negative implications for the group of nations fighting against the Islamic State group. As the group becomes weaker, the bond holding together the fractious alliance of Iraqi security forces, Shiites and Kurds weakens with it. With the capital now recaptured by Syrian forces, a serious blow has been dealt to the Islamic State group and to the alliance arrayed against it.
The cracks are already beginning to show. In northern Iraq, the homeland of our Kurdish allies, tensions have grown with the central government in the past few months. In late September, the Kurds held a referendum on independence from Iraq, with more than 92 percent of the region’s citizens voting for the motion.
This move has irritated the central government in Iraq, which does not recognize the right of the Kurds to have an independent state. As of the time of writing, Iraqi forces had retaken the city of Kirkuk, an oil-rich northern city to which both Iraqis and Kurds have laid claim in the past.
Firefights broke out between Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi security forces as the central government retook the provincial areas around Kirkuk.
At this point, the best argument to keep the coalition together is that the job against the Islamic State group still isn’t finished. Even with the territorial elements of the Islamic State group recaptured, the group will likely live on as a low-tech insurgency. The leadership structure of the Islamic State group has seen how effective lone wolf attacks in metropolitan Europe have been — you don’t need a state to commit those horrendous acts.
Even though both the Kurds and Iraqi government could turn their attention to counter-terrorism work against the remnants of the Islamic State group, the infighting is probably just set to increase. The central government in Iraq is dead set against an independent Kurdistan and might be willing to use force to prevent it from breaking away.
If this happens, the pressure on mopping up the remnants of the Islamic State Group will decrease as Iraq is consumed with internal conflict instead of focusing on keeping a lid on what is left of the despicable so-called Islamic State group.
After the United States and the USSR dispatched the common enemy in Nazi Germany, we spent years at each other’s throats. Unfortunately, with the Islamic State group on the wane, we’re probably on the way to seeing a similar situation within Iraq.
Ian Hutchinson is a Greenfield native pursuing his master’s degree in international affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to email@example.com.