Tag Archives: US Intervention

As the United States turns its back on Iraq and ‘Bush’s legacy’, Kurds and democracy left to suffer

The United States and their allies took a bold step in 2003 amidst strong international opposition to free a country from decades of tyranny and a dictator that was the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, to build the foundations of a new Iraq that most Iraqis never thought they would see.

The legacy of former US President George W. Bush on Iraq is in stark contrast to that of Barrack Obama. For all his critics, Bush was highly determined to “last the course” in Iraq and oversaw an Iraq that had a series of historic elections, a new constitution and a new dawn of liberation that could not have been better symbolised than in veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani’s appointment as Saddam Hussein’s successor.

Talabani’s instalment as president was poetic justice as it represented the ironic twist of the oppressed replacing the oppressor, Kurds who were long denied equal rights were now at the forefront of the new Iraq. The US adventure in Iraq was often plagued for everything it didn’t fulfil, not for all the historic opportunities that it unravelled.

The US invasion of Iraq had many success stories for Washington, non-more illustrious than the Kurdistan Region. From impoverishment, oppression and suffering, the Kurds have built a secular democracy with increasing economic and strategic clout in Iraq that most US politicians in 2003 dreamed about.

When Iraq’s was descending into all out civil war, Bush took the bold move to call upon thousands more troops, when the budget was blown billions more dollars were approved and when Iraq was falling apart, the determination of the US only grew further. Iraq was simply at the centre of US foreign policy and a project that it could ill-afford to abandon. US intervention on many occasions allowed Iraqi politicians to reach compromise and democratic progress to continue, whenever the Kurds, Sunnis or Shiites were on the negotiating table, the fourth would be a keen and willing US.

The Iraqi baton was passed to Barrack Obama in 2009, and the contrast in approach could not be greater. Iraq is hardly in the media, in the US public eye or a priority of Obama as Washington has distanced itself from the role of the foster parents of the new Iraq.

Of course, it was somewhat inevitable as Obama’s election campaign was always centred on Iraqi withdrawal and anti-meddling in Iraqi affairs and due to changes in the global political climate. It has tried to play a supportive and neutral role in Iraq, whilst stating its support for a plural and democratic Iraqi that adheres to its constitution.

It is no coincidence that shortly after US withdrawal in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s stance toughened with a consolidation of power, the fallout over Sunni Vice President  Tariq al-Hashemi began, already fragile political agreements weakened and relations between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad plummeted.

A little over a year after US forces departed, the immense sacrifices and efforts of the US are in great danger of been wasted. The delicate and often tenuous balance that the US managed to achieve over the years is fast evaporating. Bush warned in one of his last speeches that the Iraq “war was not over”.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, emphasising the moral responsibility of the US, underlined Kurdish disappointment on the current US position “…America came to this country, spent huge amounts of money and have sacrificed lives. But they handed over the keys to others…”

Whether the current administration likes it or not, they have a level of responsibility to the Kurds and the new Iraq they helped to create.

Washington cannot simply send thousands of troops like before or throw billions more dollars that it doesn’t have, but it cannot be a bystander in Iraq either. A Baghdad that is increasingly distancing itself from US influence has a man at the helm that holds the position of acting interior minister, acting defense minister and acting national security minister as well as the role of Prime Minister.

The US always referred to potential conflict between the Kurds and Arabs as the greatest danger in Iraq. The very reason that tense stand-offs were averted in the past was due to US intervention and the advent of join patrols in disputed territories.

Now that very danger is perilously close to reality, with both Kurdish and Iraqi troops amassed in a stiff showdown that not only threatens to put Iraq back to square, but whose ramifications will serve to shake an already edgy Middle East.

The Obama administration has repeated its support for an Iraq that abides by the Iraqi constitution many times. However, what happens when the same constitution is violated or constitutional principles such as article 140, hydrocarbon law or power sharing are neglected?

It is not to say that the US has a magic wand, but its influence could and should still go a long way in Iraq. The US cannot wash a hand that was deeply tainted in the Iraqi struggle for so long.

The oil dispute typifies the new US stance of sitting on the wall. While the rest of Iraq has lingered behind, Kurdistan is developing and raring to go. Yet the US has repeatedly warned Turkish companies against direct deals with the Kurds claiming it threatens the “integrity of Iraq”. It is Baghdad’s lack of commitment to the constitution and not the Kurds who threaten the integrity of Iraq.

Ironically, the biggest coup for Kurds was to get US oil giant Exxon-Mobil onboard and who are ready to drill in highly-contested areas in 2013, amidst a backdrop of familiar warning by Baghdad.

The Kurds remain reliant on Baghdad for exportation of oil and oil revenues and this has been somewhat of a stop-start tap in recent years and has become the source of Iraq’s carrot and stick approach against the Kurds.

The Kurds are by far the biggest pro-American group in Iraq and their flourishing economy, secularist nature and pro-western ideals is exactly what the US should have embraced. Yet Kurds feel let down, dejected and to a large extent weary of what the US will do if Iraqi forces turn their guns and arsenal on the Kurds once more.

Not only has the US supplied Baghdad with F16’s, modern tanks and weaponry, the Kurds fear a passive US stance should Kurdistan come under attack once more.

The increasing self-sufficiency drive of the Kurds, with an independent oil infrastructure at its heart, is the key to its long-term survival and prosperity. It is no wonder that surrounded by hostile forces and with a distant Washington administration in the background that they have increasingly needed to rely and capitalise on growing ties with Turkey. As Kurdistan Prime Minister emphasised in the same interview “we have a door of hope, which is Turkey. And if that door, that hope is closed, it will be impossible for us to surrender to Baghdad. We will do something that will put in danger the interests of all those concerned.”

The US needs no reminding that the Kurds helped keep Iraq together at key times when security situation descended into chaos. The Kurds were often the factor for compromise on the negotiating table, supplied thousands of troops to protect southern areas and adopted a patient game while Iraq stabilised.

The Kurds cannot simply wait for Iraq to determine when it will implement a democratic constitution, oil laws and power sharing agreements.

The US is against Kurdish independence yet it also acknowledges the importance of a plural Iraq that abides by its constitution. Kurds cannot remain stuck in this paradox indefinitely. Either it is independence or full implementation of the constitution. Barzani reiterated this position in recent warnings, “…there is no doubt if and when we lose hope that the constitution is not adhered to, certainly there are other options.”

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Not to save the day alone

As the US aims to save the day again in Iraq, the reality is that further underlying issues are being swept under the political rug.

All too frequently democracy and reconciliation in Iraq has been hampered with the reality of taking one step forward and two steps back. Throughout the past several years US meddling and intervention have played a crucial part in ensuring key political and constitutional breakthroughs as Iraqis struggled to overcome their historical differences.

However, while pressure and influence is nothing new, it does however mask the cracks that continue to undermine long-term Iraqi unity. For the US, which has expended billions, lost thousands of lives and tirelessly sought an elusive exit strategy, the perception of Iraqi concord, national stability and democratic progress has become an obsession.

This has meant that while the Iraqi political chambers have become accustomed to bickering, jostling and protraction, the US has often been racing from group to group to find compromise. But the long-term strength of many of those agreements is open to question – often real issues have been swept under the political rug, rather than the establishment of compromise and harmony between the embittered groups.

The US was yet again tirelessly jostling in the background these past weeks to resolve another potential political landmine ahead of the national elections. Not only was the election delayed by almost two months, and the election law grudgingly passed with US handing out promises and carrots, but before Iraqis could breathe a sigh of relief yet another row threatened to derail the elections.

Washington at stake

For the US, what is at stake in Iraq is clearly extortionate. While it can not indefinitely keep the same level of commitment and sacrifice that it has in the past several years, it can ill afford to leave an Iraq on the brink either. The regional ramifications alone are too grave to even contemplate.

Security and political gains these past few years have not come easy and unless comprehensive national elections can be held on March 7, 2010, where all parties and sects keenly participate, there is every chance that Iraq may end up back at square one, along with the US goals of withdrawal by August of this year.

Baathist banning row

US knows a repeat of Sunni bitterness, boycotting and anger that blighted the last elections in 2005, will undo much of their hard work of the past five years, which has been aimed specifically at enticing Sunnis into the political fold and ensuring they receive a reasonable piece of the Iraq cake to appease sentiments.

Therefore, a decision to ban some 500 candidates from parliamentary elections by the Justice and Accountability commission, for suspected links with Saddam Hussein’s former Baathist regime, rang alarm bells in Washington.

A new raging debate just weeks after the US and UN were catching their breath from the last furor to save elections in Iraq, threatened to pit the Sunni population and the Shiite majority just weeks from the elections with campaigning still not underway.

While the list of banned candidates was not exclusively Sunni based, with many being Shiites and some Kurds, it was drummed up and manipulated by certain parties as a direct attack to undermine Sunnis ahead of the elections.

External meddling evident

While Iraq has been technically sovereign for a long while, it is clearly hampered by regional jockeying and foreign interference. US meddling has been clear to see but with Iran throwing its weight around as a regional superpower, along with neighbours such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria who are more akin to support the Sunnis, it becomes evident that these neighbours have become entrenched in the Iraqi machine, both directly and indirectly.

The Accountability and Justice commission itself is spearheaded by several prominent Shiite figures, with the one time US darling, Ahmad Chalabi, in particular with close ties to Tehran.

US political arm-twisting by both Vice President Joe Biden and US Ambassador Christopher Hill was heavily behind the decision by the Iraqi Appeals Court to overturn the ban on the candidates until after the elections.

Divisions within Iraq were discernible as uproar ensued in the Baghdad government, which deemed the overturning as “illegal and unconstitutional”. As emergency parliamentary sessions were hastily arranged, clearly the goal was one of overriding the decision of the appeal courts. The US was rather predictably overjoyed with the decision of the appeals court, to a motion that they themselves had promoted. However, this motion itself was plagued with contradiction – specifically, what would be the affect if after the intended post-election review a candidate was removed against the wishes of the electorate?

Twist in the tale

If the current situation was not marred by enough controversy, this was further clouded by an announcement that effectively meant that all but 37 of the appeal candidates had their cases disqualified as it was deemed that they did not submit their cases properly.

During the ongoing row, a lot of banned candidates were duly replaced by their parties while some had their bans lifted, which had left 177 cases in the appeal process. Sceptics would point to government manipulation of the appeal processes to dilute the chances of banned candidates participating.

Bitter after taste

Regardless of moves to find compromise and allow a number of banned candidates to participate, this episode hardly leaves a sweet taste in the mouth ahead of a critical national milestone.

Key Sunni politicians and Shiite rivals of current premier Nouri al-Mailki have pointed to a ploy to undercut their support ahead of decisive balloting and mask inefficiencies and negative sentiment towards the current Baghdad government.

Baathism, an ideology of pan-Arab nationalism, was not purely embraced by Saddam Hussein. It has popular weight in Sunni circles in the region and contrary to some opinions its support is not exclusively Sunni based. Naturally many have pointed to Iran’s Shiite hands in Iraq, with the apparent aim of stifling Sunni Arab renaissance, as the reason behind Maliki’s stance.

Baghdad has in turn blamed many of the recent deadly bombings in Iraq squarely on ex-Baathists and their affiliates.

Keeping problems in perspective

As problems in Iraq typically get blown out of all proportion, it is easy to lose sight of the argument. The first de-Baathist commission was actually setup by the US provincial powers in 2003 and was later formerly superseded by the current legal entity. The idea was to formulate a new Iraq based on justice and democracy that would never allow previous perpetrators of the brutal regime a chance to return or hold power in any capacity.

On the surface, such a motion should allow for historical wounds to heal and for politicians to build a new national unity away from the dark chapters of the past. It is only right that having waited decades to expel the evil, and with thousands of mass graves later, that they would never allow a chance for such roots to regrow.

For those with proven links to the Saddam apparatus, they should not be allowed to participate in any shape or form. Cries of injustice by such individuals are ironic as they denied the same rights and freedoms to thousands of Iraqis.

However, the process should be clear and transparent, and not riddled with contention. For example, why did the relevant legal bodies wait until just weeks before the election to ban such a large number of candidates? Why weren’t those candidates banned well before? The criteria for the banning and associated evidence to underpin such decisions should be undisputed.

Such publicity over this debacle threatens to turn this political charade into a sectarian showdown. With wounds just healing from the previous civil war, Iraqis can ill afford another two steps back.

As for the US, its pressure and influence should be all about the future of Iraq. While it can clearly jumpstart the Iraqi political vehicle at key times, why the US hasn’t directly supported article 140 and other key constitutional articles is questionable.

Continuous feuding in the political chambers has merely masked the other fundamental milestones that have not been achieved – the settling of disputed territories with the Kurdistan Region; the advent of a national hydrocarbon law; and cross-sectarian mix of the security forces including long-term integration of the Sunni “Awakening Council” militias.

Whatever government is installed next in Baghdad, without resolving these historical handicaps, Iraq will weave from side to side but will struggle to move forwards.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.