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08.04.2013 Author: Stanislav Ivanov

The Situation in Iraq Is Getting Complicated

ИракOnce again we see that Washington’s carefully prepared operation to partition the world is having an outcome that the American puppeteers could hardly have expected. The US troop withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011 should have helped consolidate Iraqi society, and it should have led to a gradual normalization of the political situation in the country. After all, the chief irritant for patriotic Iraqis — the country’s nearly 8-year occupation by foreign troops — was gone. The Americans believed they were leaving the country with a prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who would be loyal to the West and would run the country effectively. Former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad once said that ”[Maliki’s] reputation is as someone who is independent of Iran,” and that “he sees himself as an Arab” and an Iraqi nationalist.

However, Washington’s expectations were unjustified. Just as in Afghanistan, the Iraqi puppet regime imposed at the point of the Western military coalition’s bayonets has failed and is increasingly bringing discredit upon itself. Iraqis believe that Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a new dictatorship — that of Nouri al-Maliki — whose supporters have made it their goal to hold onto power for their own enrichment at any cost.

By its actions or inaction, the al-Maliki government is deepening the ethnoreligious rift among Iraqis (Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds). Terrorist activities by the armed opposition and gangs have not decreased, government corruption is as high as ever, and solutions to socioeconomic problems have been slow in coming, as has restoration of the infrastructure, law enforcement bodies and vital support systems (water, electricity, etc.). Revenues from oil exports are being spent inefficiently, officials are committing embezzlement, organized crime is rampant, and large, totally unjustified purchases of foreign arms and military hardware are being made (as much as $40 billion will be spent over the next few years). As a result, the central government’s reputation is declining, and dissatisfaction with the government is rising among the majority of the populace, which have yet to see the restoration of oil production to prewar levels produce a change for the better.

The authoritative president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, has had the most serious disagreements with the al-Maliki government. A range of unresolved political and economic problems have surfaced between Baghdad and Erbil, and they promise to grow worse (disputed territories, the procedure for developing oil and gas fields, and the status of the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, among other issues).

Despite the difficult relations between Erbil and Baghdad, both sides are trying to avoid violence and continue discussions in parliament and at the negotiating table on various levels. Barzani has repeatedly stressed that the Iraqi Kurds intend to pursue their rights by constitutional means.

Al-Maliki’s relations with the Sunni Arabs who were a privileged minority and a bulwark for the Baathist regime under Saddam Hussein are more dramatic. Their representation in the central government remains inconsistent with their numbers. Fearing further charges of collaboration with Saddam’s regime, they have been forced to live in hiding or as refugees in other Arab countries. A significant number remain in Iraqi prisons, and people are still being arrested in Sunni areas. Pressure is continuing on Sunni Arab politicians currently in office, and a number of ministers in the federal government had been forced to resign. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi fled to Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to death in absentia in Baghdad.

There have been mass protests in a number of Iraqi cities that have predominantly Sunni populations since December 2012. The protesters are seeking to overturn a number of provisions like the so-called antiterrorism law, gain the release of prisoners they believe are being held extrajudicially and end discrimination against Sunnis. We should bear in mind that al-Maliki was once the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Interim Government’s Debaathification Commission and was involved in prosecuting Saddam Hussein’s most active supporters and Baath Party functionaries.

I should also mention that the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf where Sunni (Salafi) clans hold the power are making skillful use of the protest movement for their own disruptive purposes. The most provocative and inflammatory activities in Iraq are being carried out by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are providing financial, material and military assistance to various armed opposition groups in Iraq through intelligence channels and nongovernmental organizations. The greatest part of the money and weapons is going to the most radical groups (Wahhabis, al-Qaeda and others). It appears that the Saudis and Qataris have decided to turn Iraq and the entire region into a battleground between Sunnis and Shiites and ignite a civil war between them like the one they are pursuing in neighboring Syria. At any rate, the first religion-based armed clashes occurred just recently in Lebanon.

Beyond a doubt, the United States is behind the Arab Kings and emirs of the Persian Gulf. The situation of “controlled chaos” in the region at this stage meets the interests of the US government — the authors of the Greater Middle East strategy. The next goals it will pursue at any cost are: regime change in Damascus, stronger positions in Lebanon and Iraq, and greater isolation of the regime in Tehran that it hates so strongly. As in Syria, the Americans in Iraq are rather indulgent toward increased activities by Islamist groups that Washington has listed as terrorists, including al-Qaeda. It appears that at present the cynicism of the foreign policies of the United States and its regional partners, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is predominant over common sense and morality.

Confirmation of that may be found in the recent Iraqi media reports about the arrest in the Central Euphrates region of a terrorist group (about 250 Wahhabi Islamists) with ties to Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan. In addition to organizing terrorist attacks and subversive activities against Iraqi Shiites and fomenting sectarian strife, the group’s mission was to recruit and train suicide bombers for attacks in Shiite areas (Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Diwaniyah). Terrorist attacks on Shia shrines in Karbala and Najaf were a priority. Funding for this group alone came to $250 million annually.

Fighters belonging to the Sunni Legions of Death marked the 10th anniversary of the March 20, 2003 US invasion of Iraq with a new series of attacks that killed at least 56 people and wounded more than 200 Iraqis in the Shiite areas of Baghdad. Explosive devices were placed in several cars parked in Shiite areas. In addition, a suicide bomber drove a truck into a police station south of Baghdad. The Iraqi Interior Ministry believes that the attacks were organized by militants of the radical Sunni group Islamic Emirate of Iraq, which has close ties with al-Qaeda.

One would think that al-Maliki, a Shiite Arab, could rally the Iraqi Shiites and rely on their numerical superiority (about 60% of the country’s population). However, he does not enjoy undisputed authority even among Shiites. Radical Shiite leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr also oppose al-Maliki’s headstrong governing methods, government corruption, the anti-popular administration and Baghdad’s continuing dependence on Washington.

Recently, there have been contacts and talks among leaders of the opposition-minded Iraqi Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs to form a broad anti-government coalition and seek means of removing al-Maliki from his position as prime minister before the end of his term, primarily through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in the government.

Thus, another attempt by Washington to force regime change in a particular country and put its puppets in power has met with failure. The al-Maliki government is increasingly unable to cope with its tasks of normalizing the situation in Iraq and leading the country out of its protracted political and economic crisis. Its actions are aimed not at uniting the Iraqi people but, on the contrary, at provoking an increasing rift in society and causing the country to disintegrate along ethnoreligious lines. We should expect the protest mood to increase and generate new mass demonstrations against the al-Maliki regime in Iraq.

It is sad that these events are occurring against the backdrop of large-scale terrorist attacks and the increasing involvement of external forces in the domestic conflict, primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are backed by the United States.

Stanislav Ivanov, Cand. Sc (History), is an expert on the Middle East. This article was written expressly for New Eastern Outlook.

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