Sunday, April 3, 2011

Iraq Now: A Year After Obama

With the end of the first year of Barack Obama's presidency, one can see that the problems Iraq has got to grapple with now are quite different from those it had faced more than two years ago during the presidency of George W Bush. Iraq today is suffering from what might be called problems of modernity, while it used to suffer in the past from what could be called pre-state problem.
Iraq has actually been living in an era of "pre-modern state" since the fall of its regime and the collapse of its constitutional institutions. Political action then was under the control of tribal leaders and religious authorities, and the decisive say was theirs.
As Iraq is about to hold new parliamentary elections, one can see that the roles of tribal leaders and religious authorities have declined to a great extent. In fact, today's electoral rolls are unlike those of the past.
They are no longer intrinsically sectarian, but so mixed that some Arab Sunnis are listed on the Shiite rolls and vice versa. The same applies to the Kurds. It is true that such mixing is not on a large scale, but one can safely say that Iraq has taken certain steps to free itself from the tight grip of sectarianism. It is now heading toward the vastness of full citizenship.
Iraqi Transitional Phase
In the first year of Obama's presidency, there was an agreement between former president Bush and Iraq concerning the withdrawal of US troops. The relevant security arrangements were stated in the agreement.
Iraq faced a very serious political problem that could have devastated the entire political process: It was the crisis of the legislation of the new election law, which would be applied to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The issue had come to a standstill. Therefore, the United States intervened strongly to make the law pass. As a result, the elections, which had been scheduled for mid-January, were deferred to March 7, so that the electoral commission could finalize all aspects of the electoral process.
Once Iraq surpassed this crisis, a more serious one erupted. It was more calamitous than the crisis of the electoral law. It was the Accountability and Justice law and the objection to the participation of 15 Arab Sunni entities, with the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue at the forefront, in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The US is basically interested in this crisis, not because it is the country that occupies Iraq and is about to withdraw from it, but because if such exclusion were implemented, it would be to the advantage of Shiite streams.
This simply means that the upcoming elections in March will lead to the domination of Shiites over the Iraqi political arena. Such situation is extremely dangerous to US interests.
The Shiite streams in Iraq are pro-Iranian at varying degrees, ranging from the complete allegiance of some streams to the mere friendly relationships of some others that would never allow such relationships to approach the level of conflict, whatever the reasons.
The Dilemma
The veteran American politician Henry Kissinger has already said, "If the political process in Iraq has resulted in a religious Shiite rise, it should be in the interest of the United States to divide Iraq into semi-separate entities."

Many research centers in the US, as well as many US decision makers of the previous political epochs, share Kissinger the same view. Those epochs had actually witnessed a notable Shiite rise that the US had reluctantly accepted on the assumption that its military presence in Iraq would ensure keeping this country's affairs in the US grip.

However, with the final withdrawal of US forces from the Iraqi streets, which should take place in 2011 according to the security agreement, the US control over the Iraqi decision will be much less than it is now. In other words, Iraq will probably go outside the entire circle of US governance, and then US interests will be in a real danger.

The United States did not mobilize its armies or make such sacrifices to offer Iraq as an easy prey to Iran. It is definitely aware of Iran's ambitions, not only in Iraq but also in the entire Gulf Region. Iran has always sought to fulfill its agenda of interests in Iraq through the Iraqi ruling elites who had already lived in Iran as refugees and dissidents to the former Iraqi regime.

The announced reasons on which the Iraq Commission on Public Integrity had based its decision to exclude those electoral rolls are related to the Ba`ath Party in one way or another. For example, the commission accused Saleh Al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician, of belonging to the Ba`ath Party and of seeking the restoration of the party to power.

The commission's accusation hinges on some statements Al-Mutlaq had made in the Iraqi Parliament. The commission also referred to a document issued by the Iraqi intelligence of the former regime stating that Al-Mutlaq had been approved as a trustworthy source for the presidency of the Iraqi intelligence since 1999 and up to the fall of the regime.

Consequently, according to the commission, Al-Mutlaq must be subjected to the constitutional provision on uprooting the Ba`ath Party from the Iraqi soil.

There are other accusations regarding Al-Mutalq's connection with the Iraqi resistance groups, which the government calls "terrorist" groups.

Al-Mutlaq does not deny having connection with the resistance groups. In an interview with the Asharq Alawsat newspaper, Al Mutalq said, "If I had belonged to the resistance, I would have announced it. I sometimes meet some people of the resistance.

If they had given me the opportunity, I would have engaged in a dialogue with them in the interest of Iraq. I believe that without having a dialogue with the resistance, there would be no breakthrough in Iraq and violence will continue and the Iraqis would lose hope."

The Arab Sunni streams, as well as the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, have threatened to boycott the upcoming legislative elections if those electoral rolls were excluded. The Iraqi roll headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, issued the same threat. Both threats of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue and Arab Sunnis to boycott the elections should be apt to reiterate the last election scenario in the upcoming one.

This would be extremely detrimental to the political process.

Everybody should work hard to expand the scope of election to ensure its success and continuity. Within the same perspective, some Iranian bodies alleged that the Iraqi forces had foiled a military coup masterminded by Al-Mutlaq and aimed at restoring the Ba`ath Party to power. They based their claim on the security measures the Iraqi government has recently taken.

In fact, such Iranian allegations aim at spreading a state of tension among the various Iraqi factions, and at disseminating fear of the Sunni streams, with the object of delimiting their influence on the political process, particularly because Al-Mutlaq is one of the vigorous antagonists to Iranian interference in Iraq.
The US at the Crossroads
This is one of the complicated problems that face the US in Iraq at the end of the first year of Obama's presidency. Undoubtedly, he is facing a difficult dilemma. If things go in the direction already planned by Iran and the pro-Iranians, then Iran will be the greatest winner in Iraq. This is something the US would absolutely never accept.

Therefore, it is expected that the US would strongly interfere in this crisis, as it did in similar cases, to restore the political process to its equilibrium track with the various Iraqi political forces. At the beginning, the US interference would be in the form of political pressures, and then it might veer toward threatening the political actors.

Such threat might include postponing the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, or threatening a military coup that would depose the political actors and return Iraq to political square no. 1.

This is not the first time the US threatens Iraq. It has already made similar threats while the Iraqi Parliament was discussing the security agreement.

The parliamentarians demanded the introduction of some adjustments to the agreement. However, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's visit to Iraq at that time made the whole Parliament approve the agreement as it was, with no substantial or significant amendments.

As a matter of fact, the conflict that is going on in Iraq is essentially political, yet it is not a bloody one as it was in the past. Therefore, one could say it is a cultural conflict in which the conflicting parties use constitutional and legal methods to oust their opponents.

One is fully convinced that it is everybody's duty to participate in building up Iraq's future, except for those proved by judicial rulings to have committed crimes against the Iraqi people. We hope all concerned parties will have the same conviction and no party will try to oust another.

In conclusion, Iraq at the end of the first year of Obama's presidency is virtually a new Iraq that is different from the former. However, the US has to grapple with two options; either is painful.

First, if it leaves the recent electoral crisis of the exclusion of some electoral rolls as it is with no interference, it means more Iranian influence in Iraq and then in the Gulf Region. This would be absolutely detrimental to US interests. Second, if the US interferes, this will be to the advantage of the Iraqi forces associated with the Ba`ath Party, and this also stands against US interests.

These controversial rolls include those who are hostile to US interests. The days to come might reveal what the US would do to make the Iraqi political process compatible with its agenda. That would enable the US to protect its interests in the region — the interests for which it had mobilized all these armies and made all these sacrifices.

Rajaey Fayed is a freelance writer based in Cairo. He is specialized in Iraqi and Kurdish Affairs.

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