Published on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 by Foreign Policy
What US Left Behind in Iraq is Even Uglier Than You Think
Hundreds of cars waiting in the heat to slowly pass through one of the dozens of checkpoints and searches they must endure every day. The constant roar of generators. The smell of fuel, of sewage, of kabobs. Automatic weapons pointed at your head out of military vehicles, out of SUVs with tinted windows. Mountains of garbage. Rumors of the latest assassination or explosion. Welcome to the new Iraq, same as the old Iraq -- even if Barack Obama has declared George W. Bush's Operation Iraqi Freedom over and announced the beginning of his own Operation New Dawn, and Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared Iraq sovereign and independent.
The Americans, meanwhile, worry about losing their leverage at a time when concerns still run high about a renewed insurgency, Shiite militias, and the explosion of the Arab-Kurdish powder keg everybody's been talking about for the last seven years. Many in the
American diplomats also worry that they will soon lose their ability to understand and influence the country. In addition to
At best, unable to secure areas to visit by helicopter or communicate with Iraqis navigating the hassle of trying to get into the Green Zone, the diplomats in the four outposts will act as listening posts or trip wires. They hope to be viewed as the honest broker between Kurds and Arabs in northern
But staffers complain that they lack the funding to do their job right, even though the four posts outside
One hope for change rested on this year's national election, held on March 7, which ended in a virtual tie between former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya party and Maliki's State of Law Coalition. The election nonetheless did represent a milestone in the country's political evolution. Regardless of the outcome -- Maliki contested but could not overturn the vote count -- the elections will not precipitate a return to civil war. The state is strong, and the security forces take their work seriously -- perhaps too seriously. The sectarian militias have been beaten and marginalized, and the Sunnis have accepted their loss in the civil war.
But the controversies surrounding the still-unresolved contest point to some serious long-term political rifts. The increased pace of the U.S. withdrawal coupled with the still-unresolved state of the political map and meddling by the United States, the Saudis, Iran, and even Turkey, has lead to a vicious zero-sum competition as Iraqi leaders jockey for power.
Maliki was a popular candidate, supported by Iraqis for having crushed both Sunni and Shiite armed groups, and he came in first as an individual politician, with Allawi a distant second. But Maliki's candidates came a close second to Iraqiya -- a surprise after Allawi's dismal performance in 2005.
On the Allawi side are Sunnis, restless with perceived Iranian influence in the country. Opposition to Maliki often centers on his suspected ties to
The Americans want to keep Allawi around for exactly that reason: They see him as mollifying Sunni anger. "We would like to see an important role for Allawi," U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey said in an August press conference, arguing that the Shiite ex-Baathist was able to organize a historic shift in the post-war political dynamic by coalescing Sunni and secular forces behind a new democratic process.
Allawi can't simply be made prime minister, given that he doesn't have support from across the political spectrum. Instead he may be given an enhanced presidency with increased powers, coupled with some checks -- including term limits -- on Prime Minister Maliki.
Shiites and members of Maliki's cadre, meanwhile, are not at all pleased with the idea of a President Allawi. Oil Minister Hussein Shahrastani, who is close to Maliki, has warned the Americans that many in the Shiite elite would see a powerful Allawi presidency as a coup, overthrowing the new order and restoring the bad old Saddam days. Many in Maliki's party are strongly anti-Sunni, just as many in Allawi's party are strongly anti-Shiite, and they fear the repetition of history.
Maliki has told confidants that if he leaves office, everything he has worked for over the last four years will fall apart. He believes that he almost singlehandedly rebuilt the Iraqi state. Without him there is no State of
It's hard to disagree. The prime minister has amassed a vast and relatively stable infrastructure of power. Removing him and his advisors and security institutions at a time like this could be disastrous. Maliki has managed to win over skeptical Sunnis after his 2008 attack on Shiite militias and remake himself into a candidate perceived by many as a secular nationalist.
The Americans certainly believe there are no non-Maliki scenarios, given the risk of the Sadrists taking over. "We've done the math," General Stephen Lanza, the outgoing
"We have no real power or authority here," U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey said. "We have no right to interject ourselves in any kind of threatening way. The only thing we have said that comes close to a rethink of our policies is if you had a government where the Sadrists played a critical role, we would really have to ask whether we can have much of a future in this country given their political position." Beyond exiting the country, Jeffrey said, the
The Sadrists are, however, talking with Allawi, offering support in return for control over the Ministry of the Interior and the release of at least 2,000 of their men from Iraqi detention. Allawi has justified his flirtation with the violently anti-American Sadrists on the grounds that they are merely misguided and can be controlled.
It's a move that could seriously backfire. Maliki says privately that the Sadrists are dangerous. He doesn't believe that Allawi can control them, insisting that he comes from their world and he knows them. He insists that it's not within his legal power to simply free their prisoners. And the Kurds have been dismayed by Allawi's dalliance with the Sadrists; they don't want the Sadrists to be the kingmakers. The Kurds also worry that many of the dominant Sunni politicians in Allawi's list are hostile to their vision of the boundary dividing Kurdistan from the rest of
Frustrated with his string of PR defeats, Allawi has taken refuge in confidence-boosting visits to Arab states such as
As for the Turks, they want to turn the Kurdish regional government in the north into a Turkish vassal state. They are also deeply involved in
In a sad sense, none of this maneuvering actually matters all that much. Regardless of who becomes prime minister or president,
For Iraqis, then, there is no end in sight. Since the occupation began in 2003, more than 70,000 Iraqis have been killed. Many more have been injured. There are millions of new widows and orphans. Millions have fled their homes. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men have spent years in prisons. The new Iraqi state is among the most corrupt in the world. It is only effective at being brutal and providing a minimum level of security. It fails to provide adequate services to its people, millions of whom are barely able to survive. Iraqis are traumatized. Every day there are assassinations with silenced pistols and the small magnetic car bombs known as sticky bombs. In neighboring countries, hundreds of thousands of refugees languish in exile, sectarianism is on the upswing, and weapons, tactics, and veterans of the Iraqi jihad are spreading.
Seven years after the disastrous American invasion, the cruelest irony in
Last week, the Western media descended upon
© 2010 Foreign Policy
Nir Rosen is a fellow at the
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/09/08-9
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs