The visit of U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Baghdad this week in what he deemed as “a very critical time” for Iraq, coincided with 13 years since the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq remains in a critical battle against the Islamic State (IS) that continues to hold large swathes of territory almost two years since their rapid routing of the Iraqi army. What makes this already tricky fight all the more strenuous is the political and economic struggles that have crippled the government.
Kerry arrived as a show of support for under-fire Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi whilst reinforcing Washington’s readiness to assist at a crucial time.
Abadi has been under pressure from popular protests led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and successive drives at implementing reform and measures to root out corruption have largely failed. Abadi’s latest attempt to appease sentiment with a move towards a technocratic government and streamlining of cabinet posts still lack the broad endorsement needed.
13 years on, the old cracks that underscored post-Saddam rule are seemingly as wide as ever. Years later, the US is still pushing for national reconciliation, reconstruction of the country and ethno-sectarian concord.
In addition to Baghdad’s own conundrums, years of friction with the Kurdistan Region and continuous withholding of the Kurdistan share of the national budget has left an unrepairable divide. As Abadi announced his new cabinet, the Kurdish leadership has strongly insisted that only they can decide on their nominations.
Kerry insisted that he is not in Baghdad to mediate but no doubt that after meeting the Kurdish delegation that included Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, that the warning and demands from the Kurds was clear. They would not participate in the fight to liberate Mosul or support any measures to instill political stability in Baghdad without firm preconditions.
Kurdistan has its own bitter fight against IS and continuous to house millions of refugees, whilst tackling their own economic hardships that have been fueled by Baghdad’s withholding of budget payments.
The Kurds have also reiterated to Kerry their insistence on receiving a portion of any military or financial support provided by Washington to Baghdad.
Iraqi forces have made steady gains against IS but they have relied heavily on US-led coalition support and Shiite military forces.
As Kerry stressed that Baghdad must “unify and rebuild its country and to reclaim territory that was occupied by Daesh”, a challenge tougher than ousting IS would be the soothing of the sectarian animosity that helped IS to solidify their advance.
The need to entice the Sunnis into wider political framework stems from 2003 and IS simply took advantage of years of Sunni discontent, much in the same way as al-Qaeda and various other hardline groups in the past.
Unfortunately, for the much suffering population, doubts linger of a better tomorrow even when IS is out of the picture.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc