Tag Archives: Abadi

More reforms but same old problems hamper Iraqi fight against Islamic State

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

Obama’s IS strategy and new “inclusive” government in Baghdad highlight make or break time for Iraq

Just six months ago US President Barack Obama deemed groups such as the Islamic State (IS) as minor players. Obama’s recent speech outlining his strategy to defeat IS, including extending air strikes to Syria, underscored the gravity of the situation just a year after Obama hurried away from launching air-strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

Obama’s revised approach is testament to the growing power and influence of IS in Syria and particularly Iraq and the foreign policy failings on Syria where a devastating civil war shows no sign of ending.

Such was the danger that just weeks ago, well-armed IS militants were advancing to doorsteps of the Kurdish capital of Erbil. US air strikes helped push back IS forces with the US and Europeans powers providing much needed arms and supplies to Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

No doubt the timing of events over the past few weeks has been interlinked with the changing strategy of the US. Obama has always emphasised the importance of Iraqi unity and an inclusive government that can truly entice the disenfranchised Sunni community into the political fold and into an alliance against IS. A key precondition for the launching of air strikes and with it the resumption of military activities in Iraq, years after Obama cleaned his hand of George W. Bush’s legacy, was the end of Nouri al-Maliki’s quest to seek another term.

Just days later Maliki backed down and Haider al-Abadi was announced as the new Prime Minister. As for the Kurds, US and European support of Kurdish forces was on a clear basis – the reluctant Kurds must participate in the new Baghdad government, help in the greater fight against IS outside of Kurdish borders and preserve the unity of Iraq.

Furthermore, Iraqis were under pressure to cobble together a new inclusive government before Obama’s crucial strategy was announced this week.

Obama may have been reluctant to launch an inevitable war on IS, but aside from public shows of unity, Iraqi politicians will have been just as reluctant in forming a new inclusive government.

It was reminiscent of the days of the past, where US pressure often was a key factor for Iraqi political breakthroughs and agreements at various junctures of the Iraqi transition post Saddam Hussein. However, whilst agreements and coalitions were ultimately made, often it lacked real basis or buy-in from all sides.

Although US air power will be a significant hand, the US strategy relies heavily on Iraqi forces on the ground driving out IS militants. Whether Peshmerga forces, Shiite militias and Sunni tribal forces can be united to oust IS remains to be seen. A great deal depends on whose turf they are fighting for.

Such is the disparate and fragmented nature of Iraq, that it is doubtful whether the aforementioned forces will truly fight anywhere other than where their zones of interest lie on the ground.

The Kurds may have joined the new government, but the centralist and marginalisation policies of al-Maliki still ring in their ears. The Kurds participated in Baghdad with much scepticism that al-Abadi will succumb to their key demands or follow a different course to the policies of Maliki on oil exports, national budget, disputed territories and status of Peshmerga forces.

The Kurds negotiations with al-Abadi have already hit an impasse on Baghdad’s outstanding payment of the Kurdish share of the national budget and the status of Kurdish oil exports.

After giving successive Baghdad governments many ultimatums and agreeing various pre-government accords over the years, many of the key promises and agreements were never fulfilled. For example, there is still no official Hydrocarbon Law and seven years after the original deadline for implementation of article 140 has passed, it still remains to be resolved.

In this light, the Kurds have been somewhat predictably sceptical on further agreements or promises from Baghdad, giving al-Abadi 3 months to meet their demands and 12 months to settle issue of disputed territories.

Al-Abadi’s proposal includes a peaceful settlement to territorial disputes as well as the incorporation of the Peshmerga forces as a National Guard Force, including arms and training, a Kurdish demand that stretches to 2005.

The Kurds have received four Iraqi ministries including Deputy Prime Minister, but it is clear that Kurdish interests do not lie in titles in Baghdad, but in expanding Kurdish autonomy, self-sufficiency and security capabilities i.e. all the factors that hinge on Baghdad fulfilling Kurdish demands.

Either way, the situation in Iraq has long changed, and the Kurds are not about to give-up control of disputed territories they have secured with much sacrifice or control of oil exports only to see their economic fortunes pinned on the good-will of Baghdad.

Aside from the Kurds, it remains to be seen whether the concessions to the Sunnis will be deemed enough. The buy-in of powerful Sunni tribes and armed Sunni groups are much more important than buy-in of Sunni politicians in Baghdad. Key Sunni demands remain decentralisation of power, an autonomous Sunni region and the incorporation of Sunni tribal militiamen into the Shiite dominated Iraqi security forces.

Above all, this latest attempt at forming an inclusive government and the breathing space that the US is willing to afford Iraqi forces in battle to eradicate IS, makes this make or break time for Iraq as a state.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc