Tag Archives: Iraq

The regional dynamic underscoring the growing friction between Iraq and Turkey

As if the ever volatile Middle East was lacking flashpoints, Iraq and Turkey have been at loggerheads in recent weeks over the deployment of Turkish troops to a military camp in Bashiqa.

The deployment of 150 or so troops in early December that Ankara insisted was for protection of its military trainers in place since last year resulted in a U.N. Security Council meeting as well as involvement of Russia, NATO, U.S., the Kurdistan Region and other forces in past weeks.

The new low in Turkey-Iraq relations led to a phone call on Friday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan where Obama urged Erdogan “to take additional steps to de-escalate tensions with Iraq.”

This follows a similar call by Vice President Joe Biden last week who also urged Turkey to withdraw any forces deployed without the prior consent of the Iraqi government.

So why has the Turkish troop deployment caused such commotion?

In the midst of the changing strategic picture in the region, jockeying for positions in the Syrian civil war and the threat of the Islamic State, deployment of a relatively small number of troops holds symbolic value.

The frantic calls against Turkish deployment in Baghdad underline the intense pressure faced by Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi from Shiite circles and various forces mainly aligned to Iran. It is a continuation of relatively frosty relations between Ankara and Baghdad that led to various diplomatic spats between former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Erdogan.

It also outlines how difficult the concept of an “Iraqi” is. Iraq is bitterly divided and there is hardly a common stance amongst its fragmented constituents. Kurdistan Region relies heavily on Turkey for economic ties, its oil exports and regional stability. Poor relations with Ankara are simply not an ideal that can be tolerated by Kurdish leaders.

At the same time, Baghdad has an evident leaning towards Tehran and strong political ties and military influence with Iran is not a secret. Baghdad also enjoys close relations with Russia which coupled with its reliance on U.S. air power against IS puts it in sensitive waters.

With the ever changing regional dynamic, Turkey has sought to sustain an influential hand in Iraq through Kurdistan and some Sunni factions.

The jostling for regional influence is mirrored in Syria, where a triumph for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad holds great importance for Tehran and to a lesser extent Baghdad. Preservation of Alawite control of Damascus and Western Syria preserves the Shiite Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut axis.

Whilst Turkey’s insistence of protection for its troops holds some sway, after all there was a recent IS attack on the same camp, the war and the defeat of IS does not start in Bashiqa. It starts firmly in Syria, especially in the remaining border zone that IS still controls allowing it to obtain vital supplies to strengthen its state.

Turkey relies on the Iraqi Kurds as natural strategic and secular allies, but without peace with the PKK and opening of diplomatic channels with Syrian Kurds, as difficult as it may seem to stomach, Turkish foreign policy will continue to be disjointed and crisis prone.

Turkey once envisaged a “zero-problems” policy with its neighbors but this is a long gone ideal with increasing friction with Russia, Iran, Iraq and the deadly civil war in Syria.

Turkey remains a critical player in the Middle East and the fight against IS, and US and NATO will have no choice but continue to play a delicate balancing act amongst various powers in the region.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As ISIS strolls into Ramadi…

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) storms into a key Iraqi city, the state forces are routed leaving their weapons behind, refugees flee in their thousands in sheer panic, hundreds of slaughtered bodies dot the streets and a sense of panic reverberates across the region. All this sounds very familiar. However, this is not June 2014, but a full year later. The fall of the symbolic Sunni town of Ramadi has assumed the same fate as Mosul and other Iraqi cities, just when ISIS was supposedly in retreat and weakened by months of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

The fact that Ramadi suffered such a similar fate to other cities in 2014 shows that the Iraqi political, sectarian and military scene has not shifted a great deal 12 months on. Until Baghdad addresses these common ailments, the fight against ISIS will merely drag on.

The Iraqi army continues to lack the real ingredients, not a lack of training and arms, but willpower and motivation, which the much smaller ISIS forces show in abundance. Why do ISIS forces struggle in Kurdish-dominated areas or Shiite strongholds around Baghdad and yet seem to make steady gains in Sunni areas? This is far from a coincidence. The disenfranchised Sunni population was not sufficiently enticed into the political fold after suddenly playing second-fiddle to the Shiites after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein with Iraq practically entering a sectarian civil war between 2006 and 2007. It was the establishment of the “Sahwa,” or Sunni Awakening Councils, that successfully turned the tide against al-Qaida and other insurgent groups in the restive Sunni triangle that had crippled U.S. and Iraqi forces since 2003.

However, Baghdad did not capitalize on the opportunities. The Sunni tribes in return for ousting al-Qaida wanted a bigger piece of the political cake, integration of Sahwa forces into the official security apparatus and more concessions from Baghdad.

A continuation of monopolization of power under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stoked further sectarian fires. Iraq was gripped with mass protests in Sunni areas by the end of 2012, and by the end of 2013, ISIS had already established a strong footing in Anbar province.

ISIS could not have made such steady gains if it did not have grassroots support. It is these Sunni tribes that remain key to defeating ISIS not only today, but preventing any ISIS mark from entering their heartlands once more. While U.S. President Barrack Obama’s belief that “I don’t think we’re losing” or that Ramadi was merely a “tactical setback” is a delusional assessment, Obama was spot on with his statement: “If the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.”

Iraqis have been quicker to point a finger at the U.S. than their guns at ISIS, and that is the fundamental issue. National reconciliation has been a key condition of U.S. support since 2003 with the U.S. surge strategy of 2007, as thousands of troops were poured in to stabilize the security mayhem in Iraq at the time instigated under the proviso that Baghdad would mend ethno-sectarian wounds. Then the U.S.-led coalition intervention against ISIS last year was under the firm condition that Maliki would be replaced by a more inclusive figure that would placate the national divide.

The U.S. has spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to afford Iraqi politicians an opportunity to rebuild the state and bridge the elusive national divide in the post-Saddam era. But years of sectarian policies have only strengthened this divide and it is easy just to blame the U.S. for all of Iraq’s troubles and not look closer to home. Whether ISIS now or al-Qaida in the Sunni insurgency heyday, these militants are simply exploiting glaring gaps in the ethno-sectarian fabric of Iraq. Prior to ISIS’s attacks in 2014, Iraq had on paper one of the largest security forces in the Middle East with the U.S. providing significant advanced weaponry and training programs. Now in 2015, the theme is once again the need to build up and train Iraqi security forces and provide weaponry.

This may make little difference if the core issues are once again not addressed – the army’s low morale, sectarian mistrust and animosity that dot the landscape as well as state forces that are not sufficiently inclusive of vital Sunni and Kurdish ranks.

As the forces wilted away in Ramadi, the baton was once again passed to the much more effective Shiite militia forces to take the fight to ISIS. It is becoming increasingly evident that Iraq can only survive if it effectively has three armies -Kurdish peshmerga forces, a new official Sunni battalion and Shiite forces. If the ISIS advance in Iraq was about exploiting fractures in the Iraqi state then this is no different in Syria. ISIS took control of the historic city of Palmyra in Syria just days after assuming control of Ramadi.

But, as with victories in Iraq, the ISIS victories in Syria are as much down to the weakness of the Syrian state and opposition forces as the sheer strength and capability of ISIS. The U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria is slow and unclear. Even then, these forces are designed to confront ISIS and not the real reason why we are even talking about ISIS today – the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Until a strategy is devised to effectively tackle both Assad and ISIS in Syria, and ISIS and ethno-sectarian fractures in Iraq, the fight will merely be a day-to-day reactionary affair rather than the onset of any true long-term strategy.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Once the Islamic State is defeated, what is the long-term strategy to prevent IS mark 2?

Almost 6 months since the Islamic State (IS) seized large swathes of territory Iraq in a rapid advance, the war on IS remains as fierce as ever in Iraq and Syria.

The obvious goal is to defeat IS but sheer military might aside, what is the long-term strategy to keeping IS defeated? Initially, IS sprung-up in Syria with limited influence before their support base and military capability snow-balled into an avalanche.

One way or another, with increasing air-strikes, military supplies to the Peshmerga and other anti-IS forces and a growing international coalition, IS will be defeated. But without long-term cross-border measures and strategy, could IS spring up again in the future, just when their defeat is celebrated?

The lack of a long-term vision or consideration of the bigger picture could not be clearer than in Syria. Syria was very much the fertile Jihadist garden which allowed the IS seeds to flourish. This was only exacerbated by a lack of a clear and consistent Western foreign policy and in particular reluctance of the U.S. to get involved.

As Bashar al-Assad scathed through the population, crossing various red-lines along the way, it paved the way for hardline sentiment to dominate and IS took full advantage. At one point, IS was even tolerated or directly and indirectly supported by some powers as they became a tool to the toppling of Assad. But IS eyes were not fixated on regime change in Damascus and in fact Assad and IS had mutual interests.

Now the battle in Syria rages on and nowhere depicts the current ferocity and pro-longed nature of the battle against IS better than in Kobane. Hundreds of air strikes and dozens of Kurdish sacrifices later, IS was dealt a blow but remained a determined foe.

Even if IS is defeated in Syria, what then for root-cause of IS, the Assad regime? There is much talk of a political transition in Syria but this has been much of the same tone since the Geneva Communique of 2012. Assad did not leave his throne when the regime was at its weakest let alone when he has regained ascendancy and moderate rebel forces are diminishing fast.

In Iraq, long-time disenfranchised Sunnis welcomed and some tribes openly supported the IS onslaught in Iraq. IS may have hijacked the Sunni revolution but nevertheless the seeds of animosity and conflict were sown long-before between bitter Sunnis and a Shiite-led Baghdad government where the fuels of sectarianism were increased by the marginalization policies of Nouri al-Maliki.

Like the deadly battle with al-Qaeda in the several years before IS, where the grounds are fertile fundamentalism will always grow.

Sunnis are growing increasingly fed up of IS and some tribes have openly fought against them, but doubts remain as to whether a true national and representative government will ever merge in Iraq. The recent government of Haider al-Abadi has patched some cracks but does not account for the many other Sunni groups and tribes that remain unconvinced and hostile.

One factor that illustrates the Iraqi difficulty in striking a semblance of unity is a lack of cross-national armed forces. The sectarian-leaning armed forces were long viewed with distrust by Sunnis and Kurds and quickly collapsed under the IS onslaught. In fact it was the Shiite militias and in particular the autonomous Peshmerga that stepped up to the plate.

One key product of the IS battle is the growing erosion of Middle Eastern borders but also state relations and foreign policies becoming much more intertwined. Gone are the days that states can keep regional conflicts at arm’s length and pursue unilateral policies.

Passive attitudes in the end do greater harm on one’s soil. Since 2011, many regional states and Western powers tried to stay out of the Syrian civil war.

However, peace in any country can only be achieved with cross collaboration across the borders. Whilst it’s not quite the equivalent of the European Union, it’s the grass-roots of such unions in the Middle East. Governments must work together, unify policies and seek common security objectives through pacts if they are to succeed.

One needs to look no further than Turkey. Just a few years ago, it was watching anxiously at the rapid development of a Kurdistan Region on its borders and had set its own red-lines.

Just this week Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged increased military support and training for the Peshmerga with the prospect of providing heavy weapons to the Kurdistan Region.

Of course, it doesn’t meant that Turkish nationalist anxieties have evaporated, one only needs to look at the Turkish hesitancy over support of Kobane over links of the Kurdish forces and the main party to the PKK.

But Turkey cannot turn a blind eye to the conflicts on its door step or to the growing Syrian Kurdish autonomy. Turkey’s security and political stability will not endure by strong relations with one side of the border and animosity and distrust on another.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The time to push for independence?

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein and particularly in the latest sectarian storm as ISIS has swept through large parts of northern Iraq, many in the international arena point to the carving up and disintegration of Iraq. However, from a Kurdish perspective, it is a question of how can you break something that wasn’t whole to start with?

It is no secret that the dreams of the Kurds have always started and finished at an independent homeland. They gained nothing but genocide and repression under Saddam and they have little to gain now as part of an Iraq with a vicious cycle of violence and sectarian warfare that the Kurds want little to do with.

The booming, stable and prosperous Kurdistan Region was a reflection of anything but Iraq. Even before recent developments in Iraq, Kurdistan was virtually independent anyway. There were missing ingredients that the Kurds have worked hard to bridge. One of these was independent oil exports and control of their own revenues, as opposed to been at the mercy and goodwill of Baghdad for share of national budget.

With the Kurdish plains washed with so much oil, the revenues the Kurds could soon gain would far outweigh anything that Baghdad could ever give.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Nouri al-Maliki led Baghdad government have been at logger heads over oil rights for several years. Simply put, control of oil revenues and oil exports was a remaining noose that Baghdad had over Kurdistan. Kurdistan has tried to cut this remaining umbilical cord to Baghdad by working hard to build strong ties with Turkey, oil majors and building their own independent oil pipeline.

The second key ingredient to Kurdish push to independence was the status of disputed territories. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution laid out clear steps and clear timelines for the resolution of such territories. Yet almost 7 years since the original deadline for its implementation, owed to a lack of appetite and constant foot dragging by Baghdad, article 140 was never implemented.

Now with the recent ISIS onslaught and latest turmoil in Iraq, not only can the Kurds press ahead and increase oil exports, they have now gained control of vast disputed territories, including Kirkuk, the symbol of the Kurdish struggle.

Depending on how and if the Sunni insurgency can be contained as well as well as the  time expended in doing so, Kurds may well fast-track their push to independence. But for now, they are willing to bide their time and crucially consolidate their newly expanded borders and bring stability to their areas.

Who can blame the Kurds, who never wanted to be a part of the Iraqi state in the first place, to push for separation when the country is yet again in sectarian flames?

Self-determination is a natural right at the calmest of times, let alone at times of war with bloodshed on your doorstep.

Even Turkey, traditionally a staunch opponent of Kurdish nationalism, has come to realise that not only is Kurdish independence a natural path that ultimately cannot be stopped, but they can gain tremendous benefit from a secular, oil rich, strategic partners in the tumultuous new age of the Middle East.

Kurdistan was always going to become an independent state, now the timelines have been greatly accelerated with the new crisis in Iraq.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

U.S.withdrawal: End or beginning of Iraq?

As the last convoy of US troops trickled over the desertous southern-Iraqi border, the move was met with contrasting emotions, much like the overall US experience little shy of 9 years.

For many in Iraq, the image of seeing their “occupiers” leave became a long-time nationalist dream.  Fast forward 9 years, 4500 lost lives and an expenditure fast approaching trillion dollar that has crippled the US foreign policy image and dented the US economy, the US were arguably as keen to leave as they were to enter.

Many placed direct blame on much of the unfolding crisis over the years in Iraq on America but as the future will prove the US is not responsible for every Iraqi misfortune and that perhaps America did well to stave off so many obstacles.

The downfall of Saddam and subsequent invasion of Iraq only opened a hornets nest, the nest was placated many decades before with the artificial creation of Iraq. The lid was simply held firm by the iron grip of Saddam and once opened, the Americans struggled relentlessly to keep grip whilst under immense international spotlight.

It is time for the Iraqi political actors to take accountability and responsibility for the current situation in Iraq. Iraq has had a sovereign government for many years, has now held two national elections, implemented a national constitution and has a large security force at its disposal that has been in practical control of the streets long before the US withdrawal.

History will prove that America never really got the credit it deserved. It made huge sacrifices whilst Iraqi politicians have constantly failed to deliver. It pulled Iraq from the brink of all-out sectarian war in 2007 with the promise of thousands of more troops as part of the surge strategy but the Iraqi leaders again failed to keep their promises and their end of the bargain.

It is by no means to say that the US adventure in Iraq should be marked as a shining glory. The two Washington administrations, particularly that of George W. Bush, will be the first to admit that Iraq was an achilles heel and in the case of Bush the hammer blow to the credibility of the his tenure. In hindsight, the US is more than likely to have done things differently and will have a bitter taste in their mouths as some events backfired.

However, as the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Iraq has had many historical milestones and achievements but has successfully failed to capitalise on any positive motions created.

The bottom line is that deep sectarianism, a clear ethnic divide and above all profound historical mistrust and animosity have severely handicapped any chance of national reconciliation and genuine progression in Iraq.

As soon as the US forces formally withdrew, fierce debate ensued about the legacy that they left behind. One thing for sure is that the positive picture of the current climate in Iraq that the US was hoping to promote did not take long to shatter.

A day later, Iraq become embroiled in a new sectarian and political crisis as an arrest warrant was issued for Iraq”s Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi and a number of other Sunni figures, on terror related charges. This is in addition to controversy around Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak whose criticism of Maliki”s dictatorial tendencies left him clinging on to his position as Maliki sought a vote of no confidence against him.

People have warned about the fragility of the current coalition, however, the coalition has been anything but stable and harmonious since its much delayed inception. Over a year later and key ministries still remain in so-called temporary hands. Iyyad Allawi, the head of al-Iraqiya, has had an ongoing political rift and escalating war of words with Maliki accusing him of monopolisation of power and reneging on the Erbil agreement.

As the current crisis has escalated, an already bewildered al-Iraqiya decided to boycott parliament. Renew sectarian bloodshed coupled with a collapse of the current government may place Iraq in a point of no return and without a bail-out from the US this time around.

It is easy to overlook that Sunni Sahwa councils were a significant factor in the decline of violence and they still remain a localised Sunni tool rather than a national possession. Without a balanced security apparatus, Iraq will have three different armies guarding each of the major factions of Iraq.

The Sunni-Shiite power struggle is also exhibited in the increasing ploy of largely Sunni provinces to manipulate constitutional clauses and seek regional autonomy to place Maliki in a difficult bargaining corner and to safeguard their powerbases.

While much of Iraq has been stuck in a rut, Kurdistan has enjoyed unprecedented progression much to the regular dismay than applaud from Baghdad. More than any other group, the Kurds were most disappointed by the US exit and left them feeling anxious at hostile parties around them.

Renewed sectarianism and friction in Baghdad will see the Kurds embroiled in a fresh nightmare that will only blight the attraction and evolvement of the region. Furthermore, the Kurds have been so busy helping construct successive governments in Baghdad and then help papering over the cracks that they have seemingly overlooked that Baghdad has seldom kept their end of the bargain and has gotten away without any real political repercussions.

Kurdistan has waited for almost a decade for the return of Kirkuk and disputed territories and has waited many years for key laws such as a national hydrocarbon law to be adopted. In reality, unless Kurdistan takes matters into their own hands and pushes Baghdad in no uncertain terms, they will wait yet another decade for the return of their lands.

As kingmakers, Kurds have taken a tough-line position in negotiations over successive government formations, while Baghdad has dragged their heels in the commitments they have agreed to as part of the initial wooing of Kurdish blocs.

Just as the jostling of power between Sunni and Shiites will come to the boil at some point, especially if the proviso of parliament and politics is seen as an insufficient forum, then the increasing bitter relationship between Erbil and Baghdad will take similar suit if it indefinitely becomes stuck in a detrimental cycle.

While much of how the proceedings play out is in the hands of the Iraqi leaders, the difficulties already inherent are only exasperated by the influence of neighbouring countries. As the US formally withdraws, the battle for influence in Iraq will only heighten.

The Shiite-led government of al-Maliki openly sways towards Tehran and has defended the Allawite and fellow Shiite Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, while most of the Arab world has turned increasingly against him. All the while, Sunni neighbours such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia looks anxiously at the alliances formed by Baghdad.

As the Middle East has evolved greatly as a result of the Arab Spring, Iraq will need to greatly alter the relations with its neighbours.

At the same time, Kurdistan which is already under great constraints due to the weary eye of its neighbours, strives for good relations with all sides and must not rely on the sentiments of Baghdad in achieving its nationalist ambitions.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Another political fallout in Kurdistan at a time when need for unity greatest

Just when an aurora of calm and stability was returning to Kurdistan following the several weeks of riots that were instigated earlier this year in Sulaimanyia, turmoil, tension and anger returned to the scene once again in Kurdistan.

The riots over the past week, which started when a large number of liquor stores, massage parlors and other venues deemed un-religious, were set on fire after Friday prayers, quickly spread across the Duhok region.

The much unfortunate attacks on such shops and massage parlors, seemingly a direct attack on the Kurdish Christian and Yezidi community, were followed by tit-for-tit reprisal attacks by other group of rioters where a number of buildings of Kurdistan Islamist Union (KIU) and some media offices were set on fire.

In a repeat of heightened tensions that ensued in February of this year in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) stronghold in the east of the Kurdistan Region with Gorran at the center of the political and social exchanges, this time it was the west of the Region and the stronghold of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the KIU at the heart of the controversies.

Either way, such events prove the sensitivity of the Kurdistan Region and how polarised Kurdistan continues to be along mainly political but also sectarian lines.

Tensions always escalate rapidly with a culture of a blame game and media war taking precedence. Accusatory fingers by either side or attacks on their credibility via the media simply add great fuel to the fire in a region renowned for passion and strong emotions when it comes to political affiliations and nationalism.

In truth, such events much like those in February can never be judged merely on the surface of affairs. In practice, there is a series of underhand reasoning”s, probabilities and intentions that have been used to spark a downward spiral of relations.

Was it the KIU that encouraged violence in the first place on dozens of shops and other outlets in Zakho, was it the KDP that was responsible for the burning of KIU buildings, was it the KDP that was responsible for any crackdown of rioters? Was it actually a member of KIU that intended to greatly harm the images of both KIU itself and the KDP for certain gain? Or was it actually someone from the KDP who intended to harm the image of both sides?

Could such attacks have been perpetrated by Islamist groups in the greater Iraq with influence on elements in the region?

It was widely alleged that emotions on Friday were heightened by fiery sermons in Zakho with the KRG in particular blaming a particular Imam with alleged ties to KIU.

As always the questions pondered rage unanswered with the obsession of finding a side to blame taking significance. Rather than singling out the minority elements of each party in such episodes, the blame is quickly shifted to the whole party and the whole government.

What is clear is that while the attacks on so-called western icons in Zakho may seem to have a religious grounding, in reality the fundamental undertones are political.

These liqueur stores or the like did not appear overnight in Zakho or in the Kurdistan Region. They have been there for years that have encompassed various events of political turmoil, so why now?

The region is renowned for its religious and ethnic tolerance and it”s embracing of pluralism and indeed the KIU and other Islamist-rooted parties would be hard-pressed not to agree that that is one element of the Kurdish landscape that has received a lot of positive light from Western powers, in a greater region hardly renowned for its tolerance or pluralism.

There is no smoke without fire and all signs to point a pre-mediated set of events. It”s hard to believe that events in Zakho and subsequent incidents were simply spontaneous in nature.

Such is the level of passion that political parties and protesters almost expect harsh reprisal actions following initial violent attacks. It is almost a case of goading of sentiments, with key elements taking full advantage of the emotive and political polarisation that appears at such turns.

Tensions between the KIU and KDP is not new, you only need to go back to 2005 when small group of supporters attacked their buildings, with the KDP later compensating families of victims and renovating KIU buildings. With the Duhok province a longtime stronghold of the KDP, with the KDP weeks away from assuming the premiership a further time and with the much anticipated provincial elections around the corner, these stirring of tensions, blame games and media war allows early points to be scored.

Although the relations between the ruling parties and opposition groups have calmed significantly, there has been a lack of real reconciliation, dialogue and concord. Aside from KIU statements this week against the KDP, all opposition parties still have somewhat of a bitter taste in their mouths.

In this light, it was hardly surprising when it was announced this week that opposition groups had refused to take part in proposed multi-party talks, with Gorran stating their solidarity with the KIU “for the oppression they were subjected to”.

Kurdistan Region President, Massaud Barzani, promised a full investigation of the incidents and vowed to hold any perpetrator to account regardless of political affiliation.

Indeed, this is not about the KIU, KDP or any other political party. This is about preserving the interests of Kurdistan and preserving the interests of the people who ultimately vote for these parties. Injustice has the same connotations no matter the background and any wrong doing, criminal attacks or violent reprisals must be fully accounted for no matter who the guilty party turns out to be.

The most unfortunate casualty of this setback is the media. The media becomes a default target where emotions are channeled. Journalists, media outlets and freedom of speech must be protected as a symbol of our society. However, by the same token this does give the media, especially those owned by the political parties, the right to enflame tensions, spread false accusations or mislead viewers.

KDP has issues statements expecting the KIU to end the media war it believe was instigated again the KDP. The media war in Kurdistan is perhaps the greatest poison of such riots. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reports Without Borders quickly condemned all political factions for the targeting of the media.

Other opposition parties should be a part of reconciliation in such circumstances, after all they are still an accountable part of the political interests of Kurdistan. However, all too often such events and deepening of wounds is manipulated to serve political interests, not the interests of the Region.

These events also clearly demonstrate that real soothing of political and social tension never happened after the February violence. The KRG must continue their investigation of the events earlier this year, rapidly conduct investigation via a formal committee on the latest riots and proceed with the positive reform that was announced.

As Kurdistan attracts more and more foreign interest, more foreign consuls are opened and further portals to the outside world are created, it conversely draws attention more quickly.

Kurdistan needs unity more than ever, with key disputes in Baghdad as tense as ever, with Kurdistan surrounded by hostile partners and with the stability of the Region at stake. Within the region itself, finger pointing and media wars may tarnish individual parties, to the outside world all of Kurdistan becomes tarnished.

The Yezidi and Christian communities have been a heralded icon of Kurdish society for thousands of years. For hundreds of years they have lived with fellow Muslims and under Islamist empires. Are they really the source of problem in Kurdistan all of a sudden? The Yezidi and Christian community calls for protection must be heeded and the notion of tolerance in Kurdistan must be reinforced.

Christian and various other sects in the south of Iraq have flocked to the region for safety where they have been embraced as brothers. This is a proud achievement for Kurdistan that has not gone unnoticed even in the Vatican.

The onus is on both the KIU, KDP and KRG to put this issue aside, investigate fully and protects the interests and unity of Kurdistan at all costs.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Recent attacks show the fragility of the situation

It is Ramadan in Iraq. A month of humility, peace, forgiveness and charity. However, a number of deadly coordinated attacks in the past week shattered any hope that even hard-line groups in Iraq may show some semblance of remorse or humanity.

Ironically, al-Qaeda, the group widely believed to be behind the spate of bloodshed, is the self-proclaimed flag bearer of Islam.

The 42 attacks this week did not discriminate its target. It was designed to induce maximum carnage and kill anyone and everyone within its radius.

The attacks that killed at least 89 people and wounded over 300 more evoked a chilling echo of the recent past and provided a stern reminder that in the current fragile and tentative political climate and with Iraq’s painfully slow healing from historic and deep rooted ailments, the dark days of sectarian civil war and mass bloodshed may not just be a tale of the past.

The proof that al-Qaeda is alive and kicking and with eyes firmly  on derailing any chance of a positive American withdrawal at the end of the year, is worsened by growing tension, ethnic killings and evictions in the disputed regions between Kurdistan and Iraq.

Too often deep lying problems in the Iraqi framework have been covered by so-called symbolic milestones and ceremonial political achievements.

The key issues that continue to blightIraqremain as intense as ever. The Sunni population in spite of successive years of reaching out by Baghdad and Washington, still feel marginalised and after  a high-profile fall from grace, look with great suspicion and resentment at their Shiite counterparts who control Baghdad and who they believe is been manipulated by Tehran.

The Kurds, whose existence under the Iraqi banner has been tainted with tears, repression and bloodshed, continue to view Baghdad with animosity and scepticism that has only grown by constant foot-dragging over the implementation of constitutional articles.

Several years after its legal enshrinement, article 140 of the constitution continues to gather dust. Despite decades of Arabisation and forced eviction of Kurds from their ancestral homes, thousands have been denied justice. Ironically, Arabs continue to accuse the Kurds of attempting to change the demography of the disputed regions, for wanting to correct the wrongs of the past.

With the provision of security such a core pillar of the newIraq, Kurds in the disputed regions demand their defence and protection from theKurdistanregional forces. The growing crisis in the Diyala province and surrounding areas has underscored the vulnerability of the Kurdish population under the protection ofIraqnational forces.

Peshmerga forces left the Diyala province in 2008 under an agreement with Baghdad but recent events prove that they are needed more than ever.

Continued reports of murders and the eviction of thousands of Kurds is a stark warning to the KRG. It is the responsibility of the KRG to protect the Kurds wherever they may be. Protection of Kurdish rights and livelihood has no boundary. The lands may be so-called disputed but there is no dispute that the Kurds have every right to live in their homes with full safety and assurance.

While deportations and ethnic cleansing may have been a common part of Saddam’s regime, this is supposedly the new democratic and all inclusive Iraq and a far cry from the dark days of the past.

Escalating tensions between the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi forces was only partially papered-over by U.S. mediation. As the foot-dragging continues over Kirkuk and the disputed regions and as the safety of the Kurdish population is endangered, it would be a great detriment for Kurds to remain idle and hope that one day Arabs will soften their nationalist stance and embrace Kurdish aspirations.

The deadly attacks by al-Qaeda and the growing incapacity of Iraqi forces to provide peace and stability in the disputed regions continue to place al-Maliki under a firm spotlight. As the already fragile political shape in Baghdad is tested further, continued bloodshed will continue to undermine al-Maliki’s grip on power and increase Sunni influence.

Analysts often tie the perseveration ofIraq’s security with an extended American stay.Iraq’s security forces are a far cry from the early post Saddam era. The soldiers and police forces now number in the hundreds of thousands, all armed and trained.

Iraqis security forces are not affective as they are still plagued by sectarianism, distrust, lack of direction, coordination and sense of duty to all of Iraq, not because they are small in numbers or do not have weapons to provide protection. 

Al-Maliki yearns for a U.S. troop extension not because Iraq needs more firepower but because Washington’s continued hand in Iraq fortifies his grip on power. The appointment of a member of his governing coalition as acting defence minister in the aftermath of the recent attacks was seen by many as a move by al-Maliki protect his authority.

Several months after the coalition government was formed, al-Maliki has failed to appoint ministers for the defence and interior portfolios, with rival groups accusing him of harbouring security agencies. Furthermore, the Erbil agreement that ushered an uneasy alliance has not been implemented.

Owed to the fractured nature of Iraq, providing a true national army has been difficult. Sunni Awakening Councils continues to represent a large bulk of the Sunni defence forces. The thousands of Awakening forces have not been properly integrated into the national security makeup and Sunnis continue to look at the predominantly Shiite national forces with unease.

As for Kurdistan, they have rightfully refused to reduce their forces under pressure fromBaghdadand the Peshmerga forces continue to function as the only true representatives of the Kurds.

In reality, until there can be a comprehensive and true national coalition government in Baghdad that somehow appeases the fractured socio-ethnic mosaic, American presence for another 10 years won’t make a difference.

All Washington has done is buy time for successive Iraqi governments and Iraqis have reacted by wasting this time and failing to build bridges. As long as the unity of Iraq, common trust and the political climate continues to be fragile, the security situation will be unstable at best.

As for Kurdistan, Baghdad has squandered years of opportunity in resolving the issues of disputed territories and enacting national hydrocarbon laws through constant failed promises.

Kurds cannot wait for several more years of dithering and inaction by Baghdad especially if the violence against the Kurds continues. Keeping lid on such emotive issues cannot be achieved indefinitely, sooner or later the situation between Kurdistan and Baghdad will come to the boil. As U.S. departs sooner or later, it will become clear that Iraqi misfortune is much more down to Iraqis than Americans, in fact in losing America Iraq loses the glue that has bound Iraqis however loosely in recent years. 

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The constitution is more than simply a piece of paper

In 2003 after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis had a historic opportunity to rebuild their country, national identity and basis for co-existence but above all placate this in a broad and inclusive new constitution.

The Transitive Administrative Law (TAL) in 2004 was followed by a new constitution in October 2005, on the back of months of gruelling negotiations, intense jockeying and fervent pressure from the US, the result of the arduous tasks of satisfying Iraq’s vast socio-ethnic mosaic.

Significance of a constitution

Just why is a constitution perceived with so much significance? A constitution is a set of decrees, principles and ideals that govern a country. It is the blueprint of the governance of the country and the essential building-block for all political, democratic and legislative particles that formulate a part of that country. As the political heartbeat or DNA of the governance of any country, the constitution is the hallmark and distinction of a country. In other words if any aspect of a constitution is denied or overridden then very basis for the existence of the political and official governing entity in that country is also denied.

For this reason, across the Middle East from Egypt, Libya, Syria and Turkey, real reform is synonymous with popular demands for fundamental changes to the respective constitutions. For example, the real acceptance of the Kurds in Turkey is not through electoral manifestos or mere political rhetoric, it can only be achieved by changing the legal blueprint of that country.

Clear roadmaps in place

For all its critics, the Iraqi consultation is comprehensive and provides a roadmap for many of the major aspects that continue to fuel dispute and animosity today. There is a guideline for the extent of federal powers, regional authority, and powers afforded to executive entities, the sharing and development ofIraq’s immense hydrocarbons and above all else dealing with the issues of disputed territories.

Article 140 clearly outlines timelines, formulas and responsibility for resolving the status of Kirkuk and other associated disputed territories. This made the basis and the method for resolving the Kirkuk dilemma a clear building block of the new Iraq. It is contained in the constitution of the country, the essential framework of its existence, so there can be no clearer argument for the legality and prominence placed on this issue.

This makes the reasons behind the non implementation of a legal, valid and key component of the makeup of the country all the more pertinent.

Simply Arab factions, particularly the Sunnis and neighbouring powers have put more obstacles than solutions to prevent these articles from been implemented and thus thwart what they see as a strategic strengthening of Kurdish hands. It is now almost six years since the constitution was voted in and clearly the appetite for resolving Kirkuk is as lacking as ever.

You may dislike or disagree with articles within the constitution, but this doesn’t make the articles any less legal, clear or enshrined in the makeup of the country. 

Baghdad foot-dragging

Baghdad foot-dragging over article 140 was designed to ensure that the deadline for its implementation of 31st December 2007 would be missed. Yet the same entities that prevented its implementation, now ironically complain that the article is void as the deadline has been passed.

While the Kurds have patiently persisted with the status-quo, the KRG would be unwise to let constitutional articles fester indefinitely and see articles that potentially benefit them to be at a   constant source of obstruction by the Arab and Turkmen sections of the population.

Limiting of Kurdish gains has been the same theme for the lack of a national Hydrocarbon law inIraqand the successive postponement of the census.

The fear with approving Kurdish oil contracts and resolving the status of disputed territories is that Baghdad would lose the little sway it has remaining over Kurdistan and Kurdistan could develop economic, foreign relations and politics unilaterally.

However, the breaking of the constitution is akin to cutting an artery to the heart. There currently exists a voluntary union in Iraq underpinned by constitutional principles. Without these, the legal basis for tying all parts ofIraqis effectively eroded.

Outside interference

Once the deadline for the implementation of article 140 inevitably passed at the end of 2007 and without much progress, the UN was tasked with the responsibility of diffusing tensions, or in the words of UN special envoy to Iraq at the time, Steffan di Mistura, “…stopping the ticking time-bomb”.

Over three years later, the US and UN continue to highlight the dangers that Kirkuk entail to Iraqis future but their commitment has been lacking in breaking the deadlock. The UN in particular was tasked to look at solutions and alternatives to resolving disputed territories. The continued insistence of an international body to bypass a country constitution is remarkable. The mechanism for resolving the status of Kirkuk has long been decided. Ultimately, like any true democracy, it’s the people that should decide their fate, not Ankara, Baghdad, the UN or the alike.

With the Kurdistan government growing increasingly tired and frustrated, top Kurdish leaders have recently warned on the dangers of any bypassing of the constitution.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani recently stated, “If this article is dead it means the constitution is dead. And if the constitution is dead it means Iraq is finished.” Such similar sentiments were echoed by Nechirvan Barzani and Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Kamal Kirkuki in recent weeks.

Kurdish warnings

Successive Kurdish warnings must be matched with key timelines and actions. Waiting for Baghdadand regional powers to bolsters their aims and proactively resolve issues that favour them will only end in disappointment. If the constitution is ignored by Baghdad, then the very foundations of the state are in turn ignored.

The Kurds have been persistently pressured by Washington and the UN, amongst others to compromise.  Whilst 250,000 Kurds were kicked and beaten without remorse from their historical homes, “compromise” was not a word uttered by Baathist forces. Now those same Kurds, wishing to return home, are been told their legally-enshrined demands constitute overreaching and they must compromise.

For the Kurds, this is a historical juncture. This is a chance to correct the wrongs of the past in a democratic and legal manner. If Kurds were unwilling to compromise in 1975 overKirkuk, then any deal in the “new”Iraqof 2011 not involving its rightful return would represent a huge setback.

Dispute over oil contracts

The issue over Kirkuk has only been matched by the highly contentious disputes over oil sharing and the rights of regional administrations to develop their own oil fields. The Kurdistan Region has signed over 35 Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) and Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) with foreign oil exploration companies in recent years in what they deem as a natural right under the constitution. This has been hotly contested by Baghdad and particularly former Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani who has frequently labelled such deals as illegal.

Only recently has the deadlock been broken with Baghdad endorsing the oil contracts and authorising limited exports through Iraqi national pipelines. However, the bottom line remains that Baghdad does not want to see the Kurds drive on unhindered with their own national program. The recent pact by Shahristani with the EU to export gas through the southern corridor to Kurdish surprise is testament to this. Kurdistan was long earmarked as a pivot to the proposed Nabucco pipeline in the north, which would have guaranteed it strategic standing and lucrative returns.

Simmering political tension in Baghdad

The nineteen post-electoral demands of the Kurds were explicitly accepted as a condition for their support of the new government. Furthermore, a number of other critical points were agreed between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis that allowed several months of bickering and jockeying to end.

However, the problem inIraqis that often the agreements are not worth the paper they are printed on. The lack of implementation of the Erbil agreement of last autumn, has led to entrenched camps of Iyad Allawi and Nouri Maliki, with relations all but beyond repair. Key points in the agreement including the formation of  Higher Strategic Policies Council that was to be headed by Allawi and the naming of key ministries has continued to falter.

Recent heated exchanges between Allawi and Maliki, underpin the common mistrust and animosity that continues to blight the new Iraq. Allawi accused Maliki of been “a liar, hypocrite and misleading”, who came to power with “Iranian support”, in retaliation for the State of Law of  Maliki aiming to reprimand Allawi for abstaining from parliamentary sessions.

The laboured progress in Baghdad and the ongoing sectarian battles that impinge progress is all the more reason for Kurdistan not to wait, to be held back and destabilised by the south, but to continue in the interests of Kurds and Kurdistan unabated.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Primary Sources of Republication: eKurd, Various Misc.

The mutual necessity of extending the US stay in Iraq

Owed to the great commotion surrounding the second Gulf war and the subsequent public fall-out, the US liberation of Iraq may always be remembered as a dark moment of US foreign policy akin to Vietnam. However, in the midst of the hostilities, violence, squabbling amongst Iraqi factions and stumbling steps towards democracy, the significance of theUSinvasion is often forgotten.

As the US suffered a tainted foreign policy image and a general deterioration of perception amongst the Muslim community whilst becoming vilified for its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is easy to paper over the failings, deep-rooted animosity amongst Iraq’s socio-ethnic patchwork and misdealing and underperformance by successive Iraqi governments as US errors of judgment.

Iraq became an Achilles heel of George W. Bush and a great handicap for the US at home and abroad and both politically and economically. However, as the months wind down towards the end of 2011, where the remaining 45,000 or so US troops are set to withdraw from Iraq as part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), there are increasing voices within the Iraqi political spectrum calling for an extension of this deadline, realising the stability that the US presence provides and the fragile nature of Iraq.

Whilst Iraq’s transition from brutal dictatorship to democracy has not been perfect, it is nevertheless a remarkable milestone. Iraq has made great strides in recent years particularly in the field of security but reconciliation has been as difficult as ever owed to the fragmented Iraqi socio-ethnic mosaic and the entrenched mistrust amongst disparate groups that has made the sharing of the Iraqi cake all that more difficult.

It is often overlooked that not only did the current government formation set a world record but that the cabinet is still not formally concluded months after the deadlock to form government was broken. Whilst politicians entered the agreement through gritted teeth and under a cloud of compromise there are growing signs of fractures amongst the current alliance. Simply put Iraqi politicians have spent more time squabbling within the political chambers than delivering services to the people on the streets.

Ayad Allawi of Al-Iraqiya, who won the majority vote at the elections, has made a number of threats to leave government and has been critical of been treated “not as a partner but as a participant.” Allawi refused to take the post as the head of National Council for Strategic Policy owed to disputes with Nouri al-Maliki around powers that he would be afforded, with al-Iraqiya demanding more than just symbolic posts with no real power but with al-Maliki unwilling to relinquish his executive decision making status.

The current predicament in Baghdad is overshadowed with a number of disputes with the KRG which have festered over many years through constant foot-dragging, side-stepping and half-hearted approach to resolution from Baghdad.

Kirkuk continues to be at the top of the contentious issues over disputed territories. In spite of a clear road map for the resolution of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, it has been continuously put on the shelf and the constitutional articles have not been implemented. Furthermore, althoughKirkukwas a key condition ahead of the agreement of Kurdistan parties to back a new coalition in Baghdad, in reality practical steps have not been undertaken to finally diffuse this long-time ticking time-bomb.

Devastating bombings in recent weeks have highlighted the tentative nature of Kirkuk. Al-Qaeda and insurgent groups continue to try and ignite ethnic strife and fuel animosity amongst the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. The sensitive climate was further highlighted with the Arab uproar when Kurdish Peshmerga forces were deployed to Kirkuk in March under the pretext of protecting the Kurdish inhabitants ahead of mass protests that were organised. Whilst the situation was quickly diffused, it showed how sentiments can explode at any time and where ethnic loyalties clearly lie.

The US has highlighted Kirkuk as biggest danger toIraq’s stability post withdrawal. Friction between the Erbil andBaghdad, fragile coalitions, a loose national partnership and with questions around the effectiveness and logistical readiness of the Iraqi security apparatus, this has bolstered the case for a US stay beyond 2011.

The Kurdish support for such long-termUSpresence and indeed permanent bases inKurdistanis nothing new and where recently reaffirmed by Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.

However, al-Maliki’s openness to extending the US stay is a sign of the importance most Iraqi’s increasingly pin to an extended US presence on their soil. Officially, al-Maliki has stated that he will proceed with national dialogue with rival blocs to reach consensus on extending the SOFA agreement, but almost certainly secret talks have been ongoing behind the scenes for several months with US military officials.

The top officer of the Iraqi army, General Babaker Zebari, previously stated that US forces will be needed until 2020.

Clearly, after the enormous sacrifices in preserving a stable Iraq and indeed a stable Middle east, the US will not want to walk away all too easily.Iraq was never a short-term project, regardless of the presence of troops on the ground. Influence and interest in a region or country is not just about the number of troops, the web of intelligence and entanglement is much deeper. The US will want to be seen to respect Iraqi sovereignty from a public perspective but in the background will be pressuring to maintain a strong hand in the direction of the Iraqi government, defeat of radical forces and ensuring equilibrium in the region not least because ofIran.

US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates has openly admitted that other than maintaining stability inIraq, the priority for troop extension is to send a strong warning toIranthat the US will not pull out of the Middle East. Iranian and to a lesser extent  Turkish and other Sunni Arab meddling in Iraq is already a key handicap for reconciliation and any hasty US withdrawal when the Iraqi project is clearly not complete will only enlarge the ethnic and sectarian divide and increase interference by neighbouring countries.

Iranian influence on Baghdad is evident and has somewhat contributed to the divided political lines. The US hand in Iraq, is not just designed to keep the Iranians at bay in Baghdad, but to ensure Iranians are hampered in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and beyond.

It is somewhat unsurprising that the main group who vehemently oppose US presence is the pro-Iranian group of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who has threatened to recommence violence if US forces stay beyond the deadline.

Aside from providing critical security over the years, Washington has had an instrumental hand in forcing the Iraqi hand to end a number of political impasses. In fact many symbolic agreements where only achieved with frantic American jockeying in the background.

It is increasingly acknowledged that the same mediation will be needed to ensure political stability inIraq, especially if the current government breaks down. Whilst progress has been achieved at a painstaking pace, it can unravel and unwind at a much faster pace. Progress inIraqis very much reversible.

Keeping US troops in Iraq will not only have repercussions in Iraq. It will also highlight a major u-turn for US President Barack Obama, whose key election pledge was to withdraw forces fromIraqas quickly as possible.

The top priority of the US should no longer be security but ensuring the establishment of a strong political and economic foundation. Pushing for the implementation of roadmaps for resolving disputed territories, sharing of natural resources, affective power sharing formula and bridging sectarian divides is the only long-term answer.

The US needs to apply pressure to finally force the Kirkuk issue and seek long-term resolutions to the increasing tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. Too many critical differences have been too often brushed under the political rug for the sake of short-term gains at the time.

It must not be forgotten that the significant US surge strategy was to only provide Iraqis with “breathing space” to reconcile their difference and find political concord. However, this was far from achieved with many of the measurements set by the US all those years ago still not met.

Without resolving the true underlining issues that continue to plague Iraq and the establishment of am affective power-sharing system via loose federations, US presence for decades more will not solve core issues.

 While the US was a long-time scapegoat for the Iraqi downward spiral, it is time for Iraqi politicians to shoulder the responsibility of tackling corruption, unemployment and security and build rebuild their house for the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Can the US Really be Blamed for Every Iraqi Misfortune?

Bush Departs From Iraq Amidst Controversy Much the Same Way as He Entered in 2003, but can the US really be blamed for every Iraqi mishap?

Shoe-throwing debacle guarantees that Bush’s aim of ending his Iraqi excursions on a high are thwarted, but would the same journalist have dared to throw a shoe at Saddam?

The White House has been on somewhat of a publicity drive in recent weeks, as George W. Bush’s tenure at the presidential helm comes to an end. Bush and his aides have tried hard to promote a positive portrayal of his period in charge and point to successes from his time in high command, particularly regarding the Middle East.

However, hopes for a productive and glitch-free farewell visit to Iraq, targeted to boost ratings and end undoubtedly his most contentious flash point as president on a high, were all but dashed.

Bush’s grand finale in Iraq was tainted with much publicity and media attention, but for all the wrong reasons as the now infamous shoe-throwing incident at a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, dampened all chances of a subtle but constructive departing from the Middle Eastern plains.

However, Bush can be far for blamed for every note of discontent arising out of Iraq or indeed the Middle East, and conclusive assessments of his time as president must be made in context of the greater historical handicaps that have scarred the Iraqi horizon.

Contentious Times

Bush’s legacy in Iraq can perhaps be best summarised by one of his last speeches in Iraq, warning his forces and Iraqi comrades that “the war is not over”.

This statement is all the remarkable and speaks volumes of the “new” Iraq, when compared to the bold announcement he made on 1st May 2003, just weeks after Saddam Hussein was dramatically ousted from power that “major combat operations have ended”.

Almost six-years since the highly-contentious invasion of Iraq, what was hoped to usher a new era of prosperity and democracy, to serve as a beacon of light for the greater Middle East, was swiftly bogged down with bloodshed, sectarian terror, political squabbling and ubiquitous obstacles on the Iraqi transitional road to democracy.

While there were initial high-hopes in 2003 that focus could now be turned to rebuilding a shattered country after years of war, brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions and start the process of building a stable society, the Iraqi dream turned into a reoccurring nightmare.

However, to blame the Americans for every mishap in Iraq is simply misleading and a distraction from other pertinent facts on the ground. Who can forget decades of barbarian rule under a cold-hearted dictator who launched wars on its neighbours and even chemically-bombed its Kurdish civilians in broad-daylight?

Any critic, no matter his social background or political affiliation, who can condone the murder of thousands of innocent people, where mass graves are still been uncovered today, and the destruction of villages, is inhumane. In reality, the real weapon of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein, was disposed.

Lack of Plan B

As events over the past number of years have hardly disguised, it is no secret that US policy to deal with the new dawn in Iraq was indecisive, incoherent and simply lacked practical assessment. The decision to disband the Iraqi army and the expectation that brief post-liberation euphoria would turn into mass support for a concept that has been practiced for hundreds of years in the West but unseen in Iraq, was out of touch and lacked du-diligence one would come to expect from the world’s only superpower.

Simply put, US saw their Iraqi dream shatter to pieces, yet seemingly had no alternate plans to the expectation that they would be met with open arms by most of the Iraqi public. It took the US almost 4 years with the onset of the successful surge strategy, to stop fire-fighting and finally try to prevent the fires from starting.

Reconstruction efforts have been greatly hampered with unemployment, lack of civil infrastructure and medical facilities still common place. However, reconstruction in Iraq, particularly in the aftermath of the chaos that ensued, was like rebuilding your house in the middle of a tornado.

The damning verdict on reconstruction was emphasised by a leaked government report in the US, detailing the failures to apply reconstruction funds into real physical achievements, as it struggled to rebuild even what had been devastated by the war itself.

Harvesting the Seeds Sown Before

For all the popular opinion amongst some Iraqi and Western commentators, every misfortune or problem currently experienced by Iraq is not purely down to the US. 

The key problems engulfing Iraq emanate from its artificial creation in the aftermath of the First World War. Iraq was composed of three disparate former Ottoman provinces that was essentially stitched together by Britain and her allies, and then “glued” by dictatorships.

It is true that the US lifted a can of worms in an unceremonious manner, however, Iraq would have come to a boil, sooner or later, regardless of US intervention. Americans knew that challenges lay ahead of the new Iraq, but they simply did not know the extent of the challenge that would cost them billions of dollars, see them commit thousands of soldiers and shatter their foreign policy image.

Iraqi politicians have squabbled intensively and failed to pass key legislation, national reconciliation continues to prove elusive and sectarian violence, despite drastic security improvements, remains a real threat. Surely, all these factors attributable to Iraqis can not all become pinned on the US?

Signing of Security Pact

Bush fourth visit to Iraq was designed to underline strong ties between the US and Iraq, that was to be symbolised by the signing of the SOFA agreement.

On previous visits, Bush’s visits were short and surrounded by tight security, owing much to the volatile atmosphere on the ground in recent years. This visit was undertaken with ‘relative’ security, as Bush met with key Iraqi leaders and US commanders inside the fortified green zone.

By Bush’s own admission, the Iraqi project had been “longer and more costly than expected”, but despite openly expressing his regret at failed intelligence prior to the invasion, he firmly believed his decision to invade was justified.

With only weeks remaining before President-elect Barack Obama takes charge, many have accused of Bush of tying the hands of the next administration with his policies in Iraq. Obama, inheriting many issues in Iraq and across the Middle East, is now expected to oversee what is hoped to be the final chapter of the US adventure in Iraq, the departure of the estimated 150,000 US forces within the next few years.

Iraqi politicians were quick to praise Bush’s role, with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, hailing the US for an Iraq that was now “dramatically freer, dramatically safer and dramatically better”.

As Bush came “to herald the passage” of the new accord, much debate and controversy still lingers around the security agreement. Pasted after months of protracted and tense negotiations, the deal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many sceptical Iraqis.

For these Iraqis, the pact remains unclear with regards to certain stipulations and they remain unconvinced that US would leave by the end of 2011 as agreed. In tune with divisions amongst the Iraqi landscape, for others Bush has abandoned his promise to the stay the course.

The Iraq Left behind

Iraq may have become Bush’s achilles heel, but he at least he narrowly averted all-out disaster. Security is improving and hopes remain for greater political alignment next year with the provincial elections in Iraq.

It is easy to look at Iraq as all doom and gloom but productive progress, although at times at a snail-pace, has been made since 2003, particularly with the first elections in decades, the onset of a national constitution and the building of a new security force.

However, gains have been all too often become quickly overshadowed and the Iraqi project is far from implemented and certainly far from over. Key obstacles continue to blight the Iraqi divide, with frequent disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, debate over interpretation and amendments to the constitution, a lack of a national hydrocarbon law and many flash points, such the hotly contested dispute over oil-rich Kirkuk, have simply been delayed and too often brushed under the political rug, for the perception of greater political progress.

For one, Sunni Awakening councils, the ironic saving grace of Bush after the same groups wrecked havoc on US dreams, continue to represent a grave threat if not enticed by Baghdad into the political sphere.

In summary, Kurds, Sunni and Shiites continue to agree to disagree, with the tug-of-war for the new Iraq just heating up, taking the argument back a full circle that problems experienced today in Iraq, have had the same root cause since its inception all those decades ago. However, where Iraqi troubles and lack of unity could be masked in the past, the US has ensured that there is no hiding away from it now.

Without building a real foundation to the take the ‘whole’ of Iraq forward, gains in Iraq will always be tentative and life will always remain on the edge.

Shoe-throwing shame

No matter how passionate sentiments may get, the act of petulance demonstrated by the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush and shouted insults in Arabic, is unacceptable.

Especially, in the ‘new’ Iraq, Iraqis have every right to their opinion and US can seldom disagree, after all it was one of the defining reasons for the invasion. However, shoe-throwing in such circumstances is a step that does not do the image of the Iraqi public or Iraqi media a great deal of good. It will only raises perception that some Iraqis remain confined to uncivilised mannerism, especially ethics one comes to expect from a professional national press.

Indeed, Al-Baghdadiyah TV urged authorities to release the detained journalist as he was only practicing ideals that the US introduced. Such statements speak volumes about some mentalities that prevail and the huge strides that Iraq still has to make.

Every Iraq has a right to an opinion and none more so than a journalist but would the same journalist have even dared to utter a word against Saddam if he was performing a speech, let alone throw his shoe? Failing that, why didn’t the journalist throw one shoe at Bush for the suffering he has afflicted on Iraq and one at al-Maliki for his many failings at serving the Iraqi people?

Undoubtedly, the incident would have been met with jubilation in some circles, but such abrasive action in the knowledge that it was Bush’s last speech in Iraq and under the heavy eyes of the world, left little room for coincidence.

Bush and the US are by no means perfect, but the time to blame the West for each and everything is outdated and delusional.

If Iraqis can not get their act together for greater national progression, then no magic wand of Bush or anyone else could ever have done the trick.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.