27.08.2014 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Iraq: New Officials and Total Uncertainty

New Eastern Outlook COLLAGE 556A major change of all the senior officials of Iraq – the president, prime minister and the speaker of parliament sparked controversy among the experts on the Middle East around the globe. There’s a number of questions that are to be answered – who benefits from this, who was interested in this change and most importantly will the new authorities be able to save the country from a total collapse and counter the main threat – the Islamic caliphate? Answers differ depending on the camp experts belong to.

It is clear that the various factions and tribes of the country are to some extent satisfied with the new balance of powers and the new officials that were elected in accordance with Iraqi Constitution. The Kurds that now are represented by the new president have temporally given up their quest for independence and the establishment of an individual state. The new speaker of the parliament that represents the Sunnis is in anticipation of the future Cabinet of Ministers that is to be proposed  for parliamentary approval by the new Prime Minister that represents the Shiites.

And yet it all comes down to the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his position on the new composition of the government which is expected to be more balanced that the one created by the former dictatorial Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The latter until recently enjoyed the unconditional support of Washington.

Tehran has also supported the change of the Prime Minister, given the fact that he’s a Shiite, and, according to many experts, will be taking the Iranian interests into account. It is curious that the Al-Rafidain newspaper wrote that: “Apparently, the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will pursue its national policy while keeping  an eye on Tehran first, and then on Washington.”

Another Iraqi newspaper – Al-Zaman wrote: “The ISIL cannot be representing an insoluble problem for the Iraqi people  that have seen a number of wars over the last decades . The most serious challenge for a Shiite Haider al-Abadi is the creation of a new capable government that would pursue the interests of all Iraqis, not just the Shiites, as it was before. In addition, he must allocate significant resources on the intelligence and on other security agencies, while appointing competent and honest officers to lead them. “

Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq said that they are generally supporting the new Prime Minister so they will be willing to join the fight against the ISIL militants. Hatem Ali Sulaima, an influential tribal leader in the western province of Anbar said he would work together Haider al-Abadi if he respected the rights of the Sunni community. Taha Mohammed al-Hamdoon, a spokesman for the Sunni tribes and a spiritual leader, said in an interview with Reuters that the Sunni representatives across Iraq have made a list of requirements for the new government and now everything depends on how the new Prime Minister is going to meet the demands of the Sunni tribes.

Many foreign and domestic leaders hope that Haider al-Abadi can convince tribal leaders to take the side of the new government and give up the support they had been providing to Nouri Al-Maliki. By the way, the Sunni tribes had been providing significant assistance to the United States in Iraq in 2006 and 2009, helping the US forces in defeating the Al-Qaeda.

The nomination of a new prime minister was accompanied by successes in the fight against militants. Thus, according to Iraqi and international media, the regular army managed to repulse the rebels near a dam in the Mosul area.

However, the US president Barack Obama, who has recently faced a number of failures in both the domestic and foreign policy, tried to claim the praise for this victory. He, in particular, stated that the actions of American military forces rescued Iraq from catastrophic consequences that would follow the capture of the country’s largest dam. According to Obama the United States provided the weapons and the assistance to Iraqi military and Kurdish security forces that allowed them to turn the tide of battle in their favor. “If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic,” – said Obama. “There should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry the limited missions that I’ve authorized, protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Irbil and Baghdad” – he added. In a letter to the members of the US Congress, he showed the true motives behind the air strikes, stating that the authorization was needed in the interests of national security and foreign policy of the United States. The letter also emphasized that those strikes were carried out ​​in collaboration with the Government of Iraq.

But Washington is being cautious this time around in Iraq, it has been sending limited shipments of small arms and only a few hundreds of US soldiers to protect the large number of American personnel in the country. By the way, American arms sales followed the Russian immediate shipment of its aircraft to fight against the militants.  As for American soldiers they are in no hurry to return to Iraq. Under the current financial situation in the United States which was created by the “wise” political decisions of Barak Obama leaves much to be desired. Washington’s position on Iraq, perhaps, was clearly manifested by Steve Heydeman, an analyst at the American Institute of Peace, who said that the fight against the militants is the task of the central government in Baghdad, not Washington.

Many observers have noted the fact that after a long period of inaction in the Iraq conflict, Washington suddenly woke up and rushed to aid with new air strikes, although Nouri al-Maliki had been asking for assistance for months. This fact can be easily explained –  the militants threatened to capture the rich oil fields in the north, in the Kurdish region. The region that has been cherished by the American monopolies, because, unlike Baghdad, the Kurds offer much more financially attractive contracts, given the fact that they are indebted to the US.

Apparently, this time, Barack Obama, just like in the days of the Libyan war, prefers to rely on its NATO allies. And now, out of the blue, the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew to Baghdad, where he held a meeting with President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The Iraqi press reported the German guest repeated that there’s an urgent need to mobilize all efforts of the international community for the elimination of terrorism, which poses a threat not for Iraq alone but for the entire region and the world at large. In an attempt to show his support to the new authorities of the country, he said that the purpose of his visit – to show solidarity with the struggle against the ISIL. In an interview with “Voice of America”​​, he was more explicit, when he said: “We hope that the appointed Iraqi Prime Minister will be able to unite all the regions of the country, by allowing them to be represented in his government.”

Pope Francis was more specific in his position which he shared with the members of the press. According to him, the international community has the right to stop the ISIL, but this should not be the decision of a single nation. “When there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that the attempts to stop it are legal,” – he answered when he was asked whether he approved the United States air strikes that followed the actions of the militants who forced the Christians and other religious minorities to leave their homes in Iraq.

In other words, the West is very cautious in Iraq, unwilling to get trapped in it yet againThe whole assistance thing is limited to statements and the insignificant arms deliveries that cannot change the big picture. Apparently, as it has often been the case in the past, all depends on the leaders of Iraq and Iraqis themselves, if they want to repel the militants in order to preserve the integrity of their country.

Viktor Mikhin, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.