Tag Archives: Secterian

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.

Iraqi election law passes as hard task remains ahead


Whilst this election law is a prelude to US withdrawal, it does not necessarily signal the end of a tough road for Iraq

After weeks of protracted debates and intense political wrangling, the Iraqi election law was finally passed after elusive compromise was decisively reached on the hotly-contested province of Kirkuk.

Perhaps no other individual would have breathed a more literal sigh of relief than US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, who worked tirelessly running between the main Iraqi factions in the parliament chambers to ensure progress, while his compatriot and US Vice President, Joe Biden, probably had a frequent engaged-tone as he was tied on the phone to Iraqi leaders.

This important election law meant that Iraq could hold elections in 2010 (now scheduled for 21st January) notably under an open candidate list system as many figures had demanded. While Iraqis expressed relief and satisfaction, public hailing a compromise that has often been lacking in Iraq, for US it had far more significant short-term ramifications.

US pressure

Behind-the-scenes US pressure in Iraqi politics is hardly something new. On numerous occasions, political motions have been passed after direct exertion from the White House with the belated passing of the symbolic Iraqi constitution in 2005 as one such example.

However, this time around the passing of the election law held direct sway to US plans to withdraw all combat troops by August 2010.

Although agreement was finally reached, the much delayed manner of passing the law was an ominous signal of Iraqi appetite for reconciliation and collaboration.

Whilst democratic progress ensues on paper, the election law is another example of where fierce stalemates have been broken for sake of progress at the expense of brushing the real key issues under the political rug.

It is these flashpoints such the resolving the issue of disputed territories, the onset of a national hydrocarbon law and how much power federal regions should be afforded (namely that of the Kurds) that prompt the real health checks for the new Iraq.

Kirkuk dilemma

While compromise was struck over voting in Kirkuk, it doesn’t deal with the real issue of the long-term status of the city and the much-delayed implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.

Even as elections will go ahead in Kirkuk inline with the rest of the country, it is still conducted under a “special status”. Although, 2009 voter rolls will be used as demanded by Kurds, the results will essentially be provisional and subject to review if deemed that unusual fluctuations in the voting registrar were apparent.

Crucially, the terms and consequences of this proposed electoral review were vague. With Arabs still determined to ensure that Kirkuk does not fall into the hands of the Kurds, “officially” or otherwise, the election results may yet open another can of worms.

Although, Kirkuk is an Iraqi matter and certainly the most relevant litmus test of Iraqi unity and democracy, regional interference has been a major handicap in implementing constitutional articles. Some parties in negotiations over the election law may have used regional forces as a leverage to ensure Kirkuk status quo.

Fencing-off the Kirkuk conundrum

This leads to the critical issue of the long-term status of Kirkuk. While U.S envoy Hill was adamant that the election law agreement on Kirkuk would not be used as “a leg up” in negotiations over its future jurisdiction, in reality it is not so easy to fence-off the holding of elections in Kirkuk from the debate over the long-term status of Kirkuk.

If elections highlight a strong Kurdish majority then Arab and Turkmen parties may well use the voter review clause to dampen Kurdish gains with view to ensuring that any subsequent Kurdish claim on Kirkuk is not so clear-cut.

By the same token, inevitably a Kurdish majority in the January elections will simply highlight a certain Kurdish majority if any referendum is held in Kirkuk as per article 140. In other words, whilst Baghdad may dig its heels even further, the Kurds will see their legal overtures towards the oil-rich province add vital momentum.

Next phase of democracy

Regardless of any successful elections in January 2010, this will certainly not mark the end of friction between the Kurdish administration and Baghdad. The developments of the election law may be promising but the hard-work is all to do in 2010.

Although, the Kurds may well find themselves in the role of kingmakers again, the future makeup of alliances in the Iraqi National Assembly will make interesting analysis. With the Sunnis likely to turn out in much larger numbers this time around, political jockeying will be as delicate as ever.

The Kurds will choose there alliance wisely, likely forming a coalition with sides that may incline to succumb to their demands in return for gaining more power and influence in Baghdad. A stronger Sunni-Shiite bond capitalising on Arab nationalist sentiment at the expense of Kurdish aspirations can not be discounted. If such Arab unity can be established then tensions over Kirkuk may well increase to the next level.

Important milestones

As much as the election is an important milestone, it can only be termed in such a way as a means to an ends. With the crucial absence of agreed federal borders, dispute over how natural resources will be shared and long-term power balance in Baghdad and the security forces, the real milestones are yet to be achieved.

Add to the mix ubiquitous calls for amendments to the Iraqi constitution and the recipe for future strife is evident. While a one-off revision to the 2005 constitution is probable, how this will be administered is a massive test of how far Iraq has come since 2003 and possibly how far it will go in years to come.

Cross-faction agreement on changing constitutional articles will be difficult and any significant change at the expense of other parties is a dangerous prelude. Although, the formation of any review committee may well be based on the proportion of votes at the elections, such voting principles do not always hold water in Iraq.

Regardless of election results, sides will not succumb to the rule of the majority, so ironically compensatory seats in one form or another is an inevitable feature of democracy in Iraq. A good example is enticing the Sunni elite into the political makeup, although Sunnis form a minority in Iraq, they will still demand fundamental power and influence in Baghdad as well as within the security forces.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Deadly bombings and wrangling politicians – Just another week in Iraq

If feuding MPs in Baghdad, deadlocked on resolving a symbolic election law, needed any prompting about the reality that still exists in Iraq and dangers of ongoing political tension, the shudder of bombs across the Green Zone would have served as a stark reminder.

Whilst the security situation in Iraq is a far cry from the all out chaos that ensued three years ago, the coordinated bombings in Iraq on Sunday, the deadliest attacks since April 2007, sent shockwaves across Iraq and a warning that stability in Iraq is as fragile as ever.

Iraqis are increasingly angry and frustrated and unless a draft election law can be passed this week, the delay to the milestone national elections in January 2010 will become unavoidable.

Election law stalemate

The Iraqi parliament has already missed the deadline of October 15th 2009 for the passing of the important election law.

Once again the largest stumbling block was how to deal with voting in the hotly disputed city of Kirkuk. The fact that the Kirkuk electoral issue has once again resurfaced, is testimony to failing of the ubiquitous “side-stepping” mentality of Baghdad on key issues.

Fundamental issues such as the holding of elections in Kirkuk simply can not be sidelined indefinitely. There are calls once more to introduce a special election status for Kirkuk with Arabs and Turkmen groups keen on the idea of a predefined split of power amongst the three major groups.

Kurds have rejected any calls to delay voting in Kirkuk or introduce any special dispensation for the province at this stage. Reluctance to conduct elections in Kirkuk is greatly mirrored in the anxiety of Baghdad over the implementation of the much delayed article 140. Arguably Baghdad foot-dragging has been designed to ensure that subsequent provincial or national polls do not serve as a de-facto referendum on the future of Kirkuk, as tensions have risen rapidly with the Kurdish administration in recent months.

The other key issue has been the debate on whether voting should be based on an open voting list or a closed list as in previous elections. Ultimately it is better to have delayed but credible elections across the whole of Iraq, including Kirkuk on more reflective and transparent open party listing system, then rush through a piecemeal election law that may satisfy US withdrawal targets but may hinder Iraq in the long-term.

There were some indications this week that progress was made on resolving key differences on the election law. However, another snag dampened hopes as disputes arose on voter registration in Kirkuk. Arabs favoured using a voting listing from 2004 whilst Kurds favoured UN voter records list from 2009.

Difficulties in agreeing an election law were hardly helped with some calls for the replacement of the head of the Iraqi High Election Commission (IHEC) on claims of facilitating fraud at the last election. Any wholesale changes at this stage on the leadership of the IHEC would almost certainly see a postponement of elections.

US troop withdrawal

Whilst the US withdrawal timetable was designed to be firm and unambiguous, a term that many Arabs insisted on before signing the SOFA agreement, any delay in national elections next year will almost certainly derail US hopes and expectations and their intentions to accelerate troop withdrawal in the lead-up to the targeted withdrawal of combat troops by August 2010.

For a US, now seemingly sidetracked on Afghanistan, the tying of the Iraqi political noose around the White House is nothing new. Back in 2007, the same feuding politicians in Baghdad were tasked with achieving stringent “milestones” that was hoped to signal the US exit strategy. In reality, many of the milestones almost three years later still have not been achieved today.

The aim of the US surge was not necessarily just to tackle the every growing menace of insurgents and al-Qaeda. It was designed to pin down the terrorist “monster” long enough so that Iraqis could reach the aforementioned millstones and thus diminish public support for radicalism.

It is perhaps unsurprising that bombing patterns have coincided with periods of political wrangling and instability. Recent bombings are designed to derail the political process and undermine the Shiite dominated government.

Whilst previously bombings were aimed at more open public spaces, targeting of government buildings have becoming more of a recurring theme in recent times.  Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who fared well at the recent provincial elections, has been credited with bringing security to Iraq. Easing of traffic restriction around danger hotspots of Baghdad were designed as a symbol of progress. However, for insurgents and foes alike, there is no better way to break the government grip and discredit their gains than to reintroduce fear and violence.

As the recent deadly bombing and tensions in parliament demonstrated, while security and general atmosphere is much more positive than 2007, it is also glaringly reversible. Until gains have been solidified in terms of the resolution of Kirkuk and disputed territories, the onset of a national hydrocarbon law and the appeasing of the disenfranchised Sunni minority with a sufficient piece of the Iraqi cake, chaos can easily return if not at a greater pace.

The increasing spate of deadly bombings, pose real questions on the capability and integrity of the Iraqi army, especially as they increasingly take on direct responsibility of their countries security.

It is short-sighted for the US to pressurise Iraqis into political progress so that they can execute their elusive exit strategy. In practice, no short-term gains in Iraq will ever truly act as a gauge to determine its long-term health.

America must be prepared for the aftermath of any Iraqi fallout in the long-term.

Appeasing Sunni sentiments

While the Sunni-fuelled insurgency has died down a great deal, owed in large to Sunni Awakening Councils, and general Sunni participation in the government and the democratic process has increased, the position of the Sunni population is still very much tentative.

Sunni’s may turn out in high numbers in January but will certainly be expecting a greater role in Parliament as well as within the security forces.

The problem with Iraq, with three distinct components, is that demands will not always be proportional to the voter weighting come January. Sunni’s may form a minority in comparison to their Shiite counterparts but will still expect to form a key part of the Iraqi horizon.

Whilst recent bombings have not provoked sectarian violence, especially from mainly Shiite targets, and the sides appear to be keen on battling out at the polls for the time been, this could easily change.

Iraqi provincial election results suggested a swaying of Iraqi sentiment from sectarianism. Iraqis fed up with years of violence, high unemployment and lack of public services, have gradually shifted from hard-line allegiances.

However, more disappointment with wrangling politicians or any significant fall out in the aftermath of the national elections may yet prove that the Iraqi house, with the absence of significant foundation, may well wilt under the smallest of storms.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Hewler Post (Kurdish), Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Iraqi national elections: a crucial year ahead for Kurds and Baghdad

With national elections in January 2010 and the upcoming withdrawal of US troops, the next year will prove decisive for Iraq.

Although, progress and political reconciliation has been arduous and slow four years after the last elections, security and general stability has improved. There have been many alliances and splinters groups within the past few years, but judging by the provincial elections earlier this year, Iraq is slowly shifting away from the sectarian tendencies that have severely blighted trust and reconciliation amongst the Iraqi mosaic.

Although, the platform has been set to enhance democracy and at least theoretically propel the country towards a level of national reconciliation, if sides have the appetite for such a phenomenon, the real issues have simply been sidelined for far too long. Ultimately, it is these issues that will determine what future course the Iraqi machine will take.

For example, there are still fundamental differences over federalism and central powers, how the immensely rich Iraqi cake can be shared via an elusive national hydrocarbon law, enticing Baathist into the political fold, keeping influential Sunni factions happy in the long run and calls for changes to the constitution.

The above mentioned set of obstacles is no mean feat, however, coupled with the growing stand-off between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad over disputed territories, and 2010-2011 will surely leave many anxious personnel in the Obama administration.

A chance for new stakes

What the national elections do provide is a chance to refresh the political landscape, alliances and power makeup. As for the Kurds, the national elections will come on the back of their successful regional elections in July, which for the first time instilled real opposition in parliament via the Goran List.

These elections are a chance for Kurds to strike the right concord internally and with other Iraqi factions, with viewing to finally breaking the impasse that has seriously hindered bilateral ties with the Baghdad government.

It is becoming apparent that the Goran List and the PUK-KDP headed lists will be running under separate lists in the national elections, but will “pool” their votes. Such ardent competition that is brewing between Kurdish groups does not have to be a hindrance but can actual spur Kurdish goals. Internal opposition, different views and fresh thinking can be just the tonic on the regional and national level, as long as the overall strategic goals of the Kurds remain unaffected.

Such goals should be designed around maximising the benefit of the Kurdistan Region, ensuring the issue of disputed territories is resolved via the implementation of constitutional articles, and promoting an oil law that is fair and equitable and generally safeguarding the interests of the people in the region that they have been elected to serve.

Fresh thinking, fresh alliances

After years of stalemate on a number of fundamental issues, new political groups and alliances such as the Goran list, can act as the right boost on the national stage.

Now that there is a perception of a balanced air to Kurdish politics, the onset of new Kurdish political groups may spur other Iraqi parties to do business with them. Years of protracted negotiations and tensions between the KRG and Baghdad has left a bitter taste in the mouth, and a genuine new thinking is required by Baghdad coupled with new impetus in Kurdistan, to avoid another four years of lingering progress and sluggish attitude towards implementing constitutional articles.

There have been signs that in Kirkuk that the ubiquitous dispute between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen has been added to by a possible power-battle for the city by Kurds themselves.

It is perfectly natural to have differing Kurdish political actors on the Kirkuk stage and this is a part and parcel of a healthy democracy. However, once again the common goals of the parties must not change and that is to ensure the implementation of article 140.

The advent of Goran in Kirkuk may actual help entice moderate Arab and Turkmen groups to some extent. The provision of a more broad alliance in Kirkuk is absolutely vital to finally break the stalemate. Arabs and Turkmen may well be encouraged to work with a “reformist” Kurdish group.

The Goran list has already indicated that they will deploy a “softer”, more reconciliatory tone towards Baghdad. This would be a productive development, but such moves towards compromise should not usher a sell-out of Kurdish interests.

The compromise towards Baghdad is vital for the development of Kurdistan that will hopefully see a breakthrough on oil sharing and increased oil exports in the region. However, the red-lines must not be altered. Certainly, the democratic implementation of article 140 is one of those fundamental red-lines. The moment democratic principles voted by millions of Iraqis are sidelined this will signal the death of Iraqi unity.

Baghdad is an important strategic partner of Kurdistan and prosperous relationships is vital to the long-term health and success of the region. This engagement should be based on equality and mutual understanding, any Baghdad political rally against the Kurds in the aftermath of the elections to muster Arab nationalist sentiments must be strongly rebuked.


The Kurds are likely to form the single largest parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi National Assembly, so thus their support is almost a prerequisite to the formation of any subsequent government in Baghdad. No alliances should be formed by the Kurds or any move to waste this precious position, without firm guarantees from the prospective alliance partners that will serve the benefits of Kurdistan in practical terms and not just via promises and rhetoric that came with previous alliances.

There is no reason why in Baghdad a ruling coalition can not be formed from Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties, with a strong bout of realism and genuine desire for reconciliation, the interests of each group do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Elections in Kirkuk

This paradigm could not apply to Kirkuk more strongly. Rather than trying to indefinitely delay elections in the province or sideline Kurdish interests, Arabs and Turkmen must comprehend that at some point elections will have to be held in the province like any part of Iraq – delay tactics will not solve the dilemma.

The continuous delays of referendums, census and provincial elections in Kirkuk are undemocratic and illegal. Arab and Turkmen groups should start to work with Kurdish groups to safeguard their interests and build broader alliances, but all within the remit of the constitution. If the majority of the people of Kirkuk decide to annex with the KRG, then Arabs and Turkmens must live with this reality and maximise their positions within this framework and vice versa.

The Kurds must not allow any postponement of elections in Kirkuk come January. Any calls by groups to share power equally in Kirkuk are unlawful. In a democratic system, how can power be shared in any way other than based on proportionate votes of the electorate?

Compromise is important in Iraq as in any part of the democratic world. However, compromise and reconciliation can not be grounded on hypocrisy. How can one share seats equally in one province and disproportionately distribute power in another province (Mosul) with clear intent of sidelining a major political rival and manipulating democratic principles?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

The evident limits to the application of democracy in Iraq

There is no region in the world more difficult to apply “off the shelf” Western notions than in the Middle East. The Middle East, the undoubted cradle of civilisation, has had its lands soiled with much blood. Nowhere are rivalries as bitter or animosities as historically entrenched and deep rooted.

With the rich heritage and millennia old civilisations comes a disparate patchwork of ethnicities and religions who often have claimed the cramped lands as their own at some historical juncture.

A prime example of age-old tensions, where the historical battle for land, supremacy and influence, compounded by an ethnic mosaic that has been stitched together in an artificial manner, is Iraq.

Judging the context

If democracy was going to be difficult to apply anywhere in the Middle East, Iraq would be high on the list. Six years since its liberation from tyranny, the “new” democratic Iraq, a perceived success on paper, struggles to plant real seeds of comfort and assurance of a future where its many communities and sects can truly flourish in one place.

However, as the US administration has realised – after thousands of lost lives and billions of dollars of expenditure, not forgetting a shattering of its foreign policy image in the process – democracy and western ideals are not something you can simply “hand-over”. Democracy is not like a modern piece of machinery you can hand to Iraqi farmers and workers, so that they can leave their previous ways for a new efficient and technologically advanced solution.

One must judge the context in which you intend to deploy a notion or initiative and carry out detailed feasibility studies. As the Bush administration discovered, Iraq as a harmonious unitary state, even in the face of the eradication of evil, is just a pipe dream. Temporary euphoria or gains can not bridge long-term socio-ethnic grievances.

Moreover, if all sides do not have the appetite to implement democratic notions and truly embrace each group within the greater Iraqi banner as “brothers” then no amount of US or foreign intervention or new diplomatic initiatives will ever truly matter.

Shoe-throwing shame

A great example of some existing out-dated mentalities in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq is the infamous shoe-thrower and newfound “celebrity”, Muntazer al-Zaidi, whose antics as he launched his shoes and insults at US President George W. Bush last year, resulted in imprisonment: he was released early last week.

Although, the actions of al-Zaidi, who became an instant hero across the Middle East, may have summed up the sentiments of many Iraqis, such action by a professional Iraqi journalist in front of international cameras does the image of Iraq, and the perception of it been bogged down by old fashioned ideas, no good.

The US undoubtedly embarked on a number of costly blunders, especially in the first few years post-liberation. At times the US has done its image no favours, especially with Abu Ghraib prison scandals and the general perception of its military operations. However, the idea that Bush is the fulcrum of all evil in Iraq is naïve, short-sighted and thinly papers over the historical cracks that are commonplace in Iraq.

Is it because of the US that, in the six years since liberation, Sunni and Shiite sectarian hit squads have been at logger-heads? It is understandable that anti-US anger may see the US soldiers as direct targets for a large number of insurrections, but why should this mask the deadly civil war that took place for more than a year between them?

Iraq’s lack of political and economic progress is not the direct fault of the Americans and its leaders have been just as culpable in prolonging the Iraqi agony. Why can’t al-Zaidi have saved one of his shoes for his failing leaders? More importantly, one wonders why no one dared to take such actions against Saddam Hussein. It is due to the advent of such new freedoms in Iraq that one can even dare to take such action – perhaps America can take some solace from this fact.

Admittedly, many Iraqis disagreed with, and condemned the actions of, al-Zaidi. This further highlighted the sectarian influence behind such moves. Saddam may be long gone but his legacy lives on in Iraq. Ultimately, this is the fundamental bottleneck of the new Iraq: democracy will never be embraced while some groups still have one eye on the past.

Deep-rooted animosity in Iraq that runs for centuries is not the doing of the US. It is evident that Iraq is still plagued by a lack of common trust with different groups reluctant to succumb or compromise to other parties. Unity and sharing the rich Iraqi cake in a fair and equitable manner when there are such an array of opinions and factions is a difficult, if not impossible, undertaking. Giving the current Iraqi political track record, at best a loose form of democracy can be implemented in Iraq.

Upcoming national elections

The path of democracy in Iraq is predictable due to its sectarian and ethnic grounding. Essentially, the national elections will become a national census rather than a real democratic contest. Kurds are highly likely to vote for Kurdish alliances, Shiites for Shiite groups and Sunnis for Sunni groups. The aim of each is to muster enough votes and parliamentary voice not be sidelined and to have a firm stake in proceedings.

Ironically, even when the votes are finally counted, the different groups will still not be happy. Iraqis are unwilling to take the voice and votes of the people as final.

The best gauge to determine national matters is the people itself. Ultimately, it is the people and not a handful of politicians that should dictate key matters.

This notion could not be more relevant than for article 140. Millions voted in favour of the Iraqi constitution which, among many other stipulations, outlined article 140 as a roadmap for dealing with disputed territories.

But now not only has article 140 become stalled, but other democratic steps have been changed in the disputed regions for the same fear – it may give an insight into the likely outcome of any referendum. Provincial elections were postponed in Kirkuk and now the national census scheduled for autumn has also been postponed. The national census will almost certainly have functioned as a defacto referendum, aiding the claims of rival groups.

The pretext that elections or democratic notions will fuel tensions is too obvious an excuse. In reality, it is the non implementation of democracy that may spark conflict. Moreover, when would be a good time to resolve a highly-contentious, emotive and deep-rooted dispute over land and masses amount of oil?

The answer is that even in 50 years, it will not be a “good” time to hold elections. However, democracy is democracy. It is not something that you can pick and choose as you see fit and democratic elections must be held regardless of any side fearing the outcome of its legal results.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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

Iraqi withdrawal symptoms


As the continuous US adventure in Iraq enters yet another “new” dawn, the US can ill-afford to lose focus

Over the past six years or so, the US has have experienced many false dawns in their quest to attain success in Iraq. Many key milestones have been hailed in this time, in the hope that it would spark an elusive US exit strategy, but ominously Iraqi’s have too often failed to take real advantage.


Now it is hoped that the much hyped and celebrated US withdrawal from Iraqi towns and cities on June 30th 2009, would serve as one of the final “real” dawns of the new Iraq.

The withdrawal, as per Sofa agreement, was met with jubilation by Iraqis and subsequently declared a national holiday. While Iraqis rejoiced in public at the start of the end of a notorious occupation, behind closed doors in Baghdad and Washington, one couldn’t help but think that smiles in public were overshadowed with anxiety behind the scenes, particularly for the US.

After all, after so many years of sacrifice, lost lives and billions of dollars of investment that saw Iraq become a focal point of US foreign policy, the US can hardly just disregard or sidestep their Iraqi adventure. The US clearly has unfinished business in Iraq.

However, US President Barrack Obama has hardly kept his desire for a new stronger focus on the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan a secret, has consistently vowed for swift withdrawal and was opposed to the original invasion. This has fanned fears that the US is no longer focused on Iraq.

Biden’s calls for national reconciliation


The US has expressed their concern in recent days on the lack of political reconciliation and has openly urged Iraqis to make greater efforts. Public calls by US Vice President Jo Biden, the man charged with seeing out the Iraqi mission, for the need of more progress was rebuffed by Baghdad. The vice presidents comments came as he underwent a visit to Baghdad to strengthen diplomatic ties and push Iraqi leaders for greater political progress.

The response from Baghdad implied that they were unwilling to endorse US meddling in its internal affairs. The strong response from Baghdad, shows growing assertiveness from Iraqis as the assume the “real sovereignty” talked about in Washington and may be playing on the sentiments of the Iraq public ahead of January 30th general election, who are seemingly only too keen to see US forces depart, regardless of the demons that this may itself bring.

Al-Maliki’s office reaffirmed its commitment to the national reconciliation process. Al-Maliki had earlier stated that the countries had “entered a new phase” on the back of the US withdrawal.

In spite of Baghdad’s warning to its US counterparts about trying to influence internal Iraqi affairs, Biden suggested that the Iraqi leaders were “very anxious” to maintain strategic understanding and engagements with the US moving forward.

Obama’s message


Whilst hailing the significance of the withdrawal, Obama warned of “difficult days ahead” and once again reemphasised the importance of a “responsible” withdrawal. However, emphasise was equally placed on Iraqis new responsibility as they took control of their future. US combat divisions are due to withdraw from Iraq by September 2010 and all together from Iraq by the end of 2011.

In spite of public reassurance that the US had not lost focus, privately Biden gave the strongest indication yet that under their new “sovereignty”, the US was unlikely to come rushing back to keep peace if civil strife was to erupt in Iraq.

Biden has been a long-time advocate of federalism in Iraq, as a way of preserving peace and unity between Kurds, Sunni and Shiites, and it is somewhat unsurprising that he has focused on healing the national divide on his recent visit.

The end of the beginning


The beginning of the end for the US may well be the end of the beginning for the Iraqis. With the valuable cushion that the US has provided for so long, in spite of frequent criticism and backlash of their presence by Iraqis, ironically perhaps now as the US time in Iraq dwindles down, many Iraqis may now truly appreciate the relative if not forgotten comfort that the US has provided.

The US surge strategy was always a short-term measure designed to buy Iraqis time. It is ultimately down to the Iraqis to seek true compromise and build a new nation that can house such a contrasting array of views and ethnicities.

Regardless of the principles of democracy that now underpin the new Iraq, it is ultimately the true hunger of sides to settle their differences and end mistrust and animosity that will determine the future Iraq. This is easier said than done of course. Trying to keep an ethnic mosaic happy and working towards the notions of equality, are down to the individuals themselves and no amount of US military presence or political pushing can change that.

As the US have realised no amount of force or political pressure can make any side adopt any notion that they may not embrace at heart.

Key issues remain unresolved years after the advent of a new constitution and democratic elections. Growing discord between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over many fundamental issues such as oil production, federalism and disputed lands spell a clear long-term danger.

As we have seen with a rise in suicide bombings in recent weeks, the threat of terrorism and sectarian bloodshed are elements that can return to the stage ever so quickly. Too often long-term problems have been masked by short-term goals. An example of this are the Sunni Sawha councils, armed and founded by the US and a clear success story in the battle against al-Qaeda. If there demands are not satisfied, how long before they are keep onside?

The greater picture


Whilst the US may now provide added focus to Afghanistan, the US has to mindful of not needing to return to Iraq once they achieve a semblance of peace and unity in Afghanistan.

Issues and conflicts in the Middle East are delicately intertwined, and the US can ill afford to neglect the importance of the Iraqi domino in this puzzle. There is little in the Middle East that would have a greater ripple affect than instability and chaos in Iraq. The US has already underestimated the intricacy that is Iraq to its loss.

As future events will show, its unlikely that the US can simple afford to adopt a policy of “over to you now Iraqis” just yet.

As Obama’s speeches to the Muslim world have highlighted, however, the US is unwilling to put all its eggs in one basket. It needs the support of the greater Middle East in keeping the tentative and fragile peace. This is something that it simply can not do by itself.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

The ‘beginning of the end’ for the US may well be just the start for sovereign Iraq

With ubiquitous obstacles, much elusive progress in Iraq and a highly-costly liberation, record books may well show Iraq as  a war the US did not win, but a war that they “survived”.

In a speech at the Marine Corps base of Camp Lejeune, U.S president Barack Obama, announced the onset of a “new” strategy in Iraq and effectively the withdrawal of the bulk of US troops by the end of August 2009, by which time the U.S. “combat mission” would have ended.

Withdrawal from Iraq was on one of the pillars of Obama’s election campaign, and was widely anticipated. For many, Obama opted for the middle course of three possibilities – withdrawal within 16 months of taking office as he had often pledged and a more long-term course preferred by others. 

While this may point to a significant milestone in the contentious U.S. episode in Iraq, the U.S. and Iraqi marriage, and specifically their military attachment is far from over.

The beginning of the end?

As Obama expressed gratitude for the sacrifices of U.S. personnel and the “hard-earned” progress achieved, the key message was that the U.S. was now in its concluding chapters in its “war” in Iraq.

In spite of much initial euphoria and expectation, solid progress in Iraq has been hard to come by and with Iraq seemingly achieving some semblance of security and stability, for Washington this may be the crucial window of opportunity needed to finally execute a highly-elusive U.S. exit strategy.

The liberation of Iraq has certainly been far from plain sailing, and the Republican casualty in recent elections was arguably due to the controversial and costly invasion of Iraq as any other matter.

Whether Obama can leave “responsibly” as promised, may be as ambiguous as George W. Bush’s pledge of “success” in Iraq.

Obama may speak with gusto and determination on the situation but ultimately Obama is a realist and that is reflected in the decision to maintain up to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until end of 2011, in line with the protracted Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) signed by the Bush administration and Baghdad.

Obama emphasised that while progress was made, there were still “difficult days ahead” in Iraq. This statement symbolises the anxiety still expressed in the White House and the relative flexibility that is likely to be appointed by Washington in spite of what appears as an end road for the U.S. military in Iraq.

Iraqi obstacles to prosperity

While the U.S. can point to significant gains in recent years and on paper what appears as a markedly improved security situation and more credible political landscape in Iraq, this may prove to be the end of the beginning for Iraq.

If progress can be measured in terms of security and sectarian violence, then Iraq has certainly advanced at a rapid if not fragile pace in recent years, thanks largely to the surge strategy of Bush.

However, stability and progress must be viewed with as much focus in the long-term as any short-term success measures. In this respect Iraq may have a considerable distance to go.

Iraq remains a disparate entity and key national differences can not be easily papered over by Western notions of democracy, and will remain to blight and hinder the Iraqi social horizon, until all sides truly embrace the principles of compromise, equality and the will of the people.

Beneath the surface, political progress in Iraq has been slow and many key milestones remain elusive.  This includes a fundamental lack of a national hydrocarbon law and constitutional rifts.

Difference over a constitution, the very blueprint of the national values and governance, are no small matter. Differences about how to distribute Iraq’s immense oil wealth, to share power amongst the various communities and resolve highly-emotive topics such the jurisdiction of disputed territories is nothing short of elements that can implode at any time.

Over to you, Iraq

The key message by Bush and now Obama is a full return of Iraq to Iraqis. The U.S. has introduced the notion of democracy and now Iraqi’s can decide their fate under this new umbrella.

In principle this makes logical and indeed practical sense. However, where the gulf in differences is too wide and deep-rooted, democracy and diplomacy may not be so simple to implement. 

Washington is certainly correct in the sense it is down to Iraqis to decide their fortunes. Certainly only the Iraqis can determine the stability, prosperity and level of national reconciliation. No amount of U.S. influence can change the fundamental fact that it is down to Iraqis to make real compromises and select systems of government that will stitch the countries groupings together in relative harmony.

On the surface, Iraq has the military might to enforce security. This is represented by the growingly powerful Iraqi national army, the less official but highly-influential Sunni Awakening Council forces, ever menacing Shiite militia forces and significant and experienced Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Pooled together, Iraq has a mighty force in place that can easily keep security and national defence. Working against each other, Iraq has all of the ingredients for one of the most violent civil wars in living memory.

Kurdish pleas for US intervention

As rifts between Erbil and Baghdad seem to be widening at an alarming pace, key disagreements between both sides, particularly over Kirkuk and other disputed territories, have stoked a vicious war of words.

Plea’s by Kurdish leaders for U.S. intervention has fallen on deaf ears, with the U.S. emphasising that there is now a democratic apparatus in place to resolve such matters.

However, U.S. officials fail to acknowledge the repercussions if these same democratic systems are ignored. Sidelining constitutional matters elected by millions and delaying key milestones is far from democratic.

But the U.S. is no fool. They may support only the will of the Iraqi people on the surface, but they know fully well that applying democracy in such a sphere is sometimes like applying square pegs to a round hole, especially since the results of these principles are never likely to be embraced by factions that fear to “lose” from such popular votes.

Let’s not forget that there was even democracy under Saddam Hussein – but you can vote for only one man and one party.

Obama’s ever-increasing plate

While on the surface, much positivity is been aired about future prospects in Iraq, for the U.S. it may be a case of achieving the “best” short-term outcome, than the ideal outcome.

However, times have changed drastically since the original invasion in 2003. Highly-costly and prolonged wars in Iraq have cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars, without every reaping fundamental long-term gains for these sacrifices. Throw in one of the worst global financial crisis in living memory, a deepening recession in the U.S. and a resurgent Taliban in the forgotten war that is Afghanistan, the U.S. can simply ill-afford to fine-tune the current situation in Iraq and must now start to concentrate on more “urgent” matters.

This does not equate to a U.S. mindset that the Iraqi projects are complete or that they can now abandon the Iraqi experience. Simply, they can not wait impatiently for years to come for Iraqis to reconcile at a leisurely rate, while their other interests in the Middle East and at home suffer immeasurably.

Obama will need to learn from the failures of his predecessor and that means that one can not judge Iraq without considering the greater context of the Middle East. Even if U.S. puts all their eggs in one basket and achieves a real and solid democracy in Iraq, U.S. efforts will be wasted if other key figures in the region are not wooed sufficiently, and discouraged from preying on their neighbouring Iraqi victims like vultures.

U.S. officials acknowledge the need to reach out to the greater Middle Eastern arena, and particularly Iran and Syria. Furthermore, as Iraq became the Republican Achilles heel, the Palestinian roadmap suffered, and this may need the full focus of Obama to be reignited.

Broad Support for Obama’s Plan

Although some remain concerned that Obama’s election pledge was watered down and the residual force remained significant through to 2011, Obama received broad support for the “new strategy” of his national security team.

The Republicans remained generally supportive, although they were keen to showcase the achievements of the Bush administration in getting to this stage.

Others U.S. politicians, as well as key Iraqi politicians, have expresses anxiety that the withdrawal could reverse the dramatic but tentative gains to date.

On his part, Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki stated his confidence that Iraqi forces were capable of providing security in the absence of U.S. forces.

In principle, Obama has tried to be tactful and positive on the surface but real uncertainty will remain in his mind. Obama tried to be reassuring and clear in his statements, but will know much will depend on how Iraqis progress, specifically with the national elections scheduled for later this year.

Although, the White House have pointed to the democratic apparatus to resolve national issues and aired common optimism, behind the scenes they will remain watchful to how Iraqis shape their future.

How the remaining chapters of the Iraqi war unravels is dependent on the Iraqis, but the U.S. must can ill afford, after reaching this stage with much sacrifice by their own admission, simply believe that they have fulfilled their end of the bargain.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, 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.

The Countdown to the Inheritance of Bush’s Headache

It is proving for the US that one man can take a horse to water but a thousand can’t make him drink. 

Five years of a conflict with seemingly no end-sight has taken its toll. With the cost of operations in Iraq at $10billion a month, a US economy in recession, rocketing fuel prices, over 4000 US casualties and protracted political progress in Iraq, disgruntled voices in the Senate and general US public are understandably growing by the day.

Much like their Iraqi counterparts in their transition to democracy, the US has often taken one step forward and two steps back. This view was reinforced after President Bush as widely expected announced his intention to freeze troop withdrawals from July and allow senior commander General David Petraeus time to evaluate and assess the next steps.

With Petraeus unwilling to commit on troop numbers and Bush’s wait and see approach, it is apparent that at least under his presidential tenure, Bush has no strategy for ending America’s highly contentious and costly involvement in Iraq.  

The Democrats have accused Bush of handing over the headache to the next president by side-stepping tough decisions. The announcement to halt troop drawdown means that US troop levels will remain above 140,000 well into 2009 at the minimum. Although Democrat-presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have signalled their intention to withdraw as soon as feasible, the next administrations hands may well have been tied for the foreseeable future.

Even in the face of other critical concerns at home headed by looming economic recession, it is easy to see why Iraq has dominated the presidential race.

Bush may well be executing his own exit strategy as he hailed a “major strategic shift” in Iraq.  Bush’s stance was notably more encouraging than that of Petraeus and Crocker, as he delivered an upbeat speech pointing out to military, political and economic progress in Iraq.

However, although the surge has reaped dividends in Iraq, the ultimate goal of political reconciliation in Iraq has been instigated at a leisurely pace. Whilst the US has too-often hailed what has been achieved, the emptier half of the glass is of far greater weighting. Key benchmarks such as a representative national government, oil sharing and provincial powers are proving as elusive as ever. On the ground, reconstruction is slow and heavily reliant on US funding.

As Bush may have tied the hands of the next administration, Baghdad has effectively tied the hands of Bush.   The Iraqi military, riven by sectarianism, is still heavily reliant on the US and unable to function effectively as a ‘central’ force. Meanwhile, the fractious Iraqi political landscape is plagued by common mistrust with the cancerous influence of numerous militias proving a major time-bomb. Recent violence in Basra only highlighted the tentative and volatile climate in Iraq.

Violence has certainly dropped and al-Qaeda has taken a major blow, thanks largely to the onset of Sunni councils. However, this may yet haunt Iraq in the future if Sunni demands for a bigger slice of the political cake are not fulfilled.

Petraeus has warned that any hasty pullout would undercut security, while the US institute for Peace claiming “the U.S. is no closer to being able to leave Iraq than it was a year ago”, warned of mass chaos and genocide in such an eventuality.

While more troops can enforce valuable security, at the end of the day any sacrifice is in vain if Iraqis do not capitalise on the windows of opportunity afforded. Even with all the time and money in the world, the appetite of the Iraqi factions for reconciliation and compromise, is far more empowering than the might of any army.

If the current US vision of a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Iraq is to be realised, one can forget withdrawal in the next 10 years. Ominously, even then such full US-engagement may prove inconclusive or even powerless to avoid civil war.

The only way the US can withdraw in the next 1-2 years is to implement a drastically fuzzier interpretation of “success”, then possibly opt to allow nature to run its course in Iraq. Bush may be accused of creating the current mayhem in Iraq, but in reality they only lifted the unceremonious lid. Iraq’s problems are far more deep-rooted and artificial. Century’s old sectarian and ethnic tension can not be papered over by Western values.

If the Iraqis do not advocate the same ideals, the US can dream all it likes. 

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

New Dispute Over National Budget Marks Mounting Friction Between KRG and Baghdad

The Iraqi Political Paradigm – taking one step forward and two back.

The transitional road to democracy in Iraq has been symbolised by protracted negotiations, widespread animosity and mistrust and above all a lack of lasting compromise. However, in spite of the recent commendations by the US administration and the United Nations on progress in Iraq and the desire and effort to establish national reconciliation, particularly with the disenfranchised Sunni Arab population, fundamental problems continue to haunt Iraq.

The fulcrum of national discord is a long-running feud and increasing divide between the largely autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad, on a number of highly-contentious issues.

Often in Iraqi politics, much to the frustration of a disillusioned population and their foreign occupiers, where Iraqis take a step forward in striking the right reconciliatory tones, other deep-seated issues plaguing the social horizon, means it habitually takes two steps back.

On paper, two major milestones were achieved in Iraq recently. Firstly, the Iraqi parliament unanimously passed a law to allow certain ex-Baathist Party officials to return to public life, fulfilling a key demand of embittered Sunnis.

Secondly, the Iraqi parliament voted in a majority over a draft to modify the existing flag by removing the three stars that served as an icon of Baathist Party ideology, to satisfy demands by Kurds who refused to fly a flag that symbolised all the misfortune and suffering that they had endured under it.

Although it marked a rare union in the National Assembly, in essence the urgency of taking a swift measure to change the flag, where similar initiatives had been rejected in the past, was the threat of a great embarrassment that would have engulfed the Iraqi government at the planned meeting of pan-Arab parliamentarians in Kurdistan, had the Iraqi national flag not been raised on a territory of a member of the Arab League.

To blight short-lived hope, as agreement over the new temporary national flag was embraced, almost simultaneously another hot-issue came to the fore. Over three weeks into the new year, the Iraqi national budget for 2008, allocating some 49 billions dollars, is dramatically stalled.

At the heart of the debate are objections from Sunnis and particularly from the ruling Shiite alliance, whose traditional alliance with the Kurds is diminishing, on the allocation of 17% the national budget to the KRG. The Kurds had also insisted that the Kurdish Peshmerga should be paid out of the national defence budget as a legitimate “Iraqi” defence force. Other reservations, stemmed from the lack of accountability of government spending over the last few years and the perceived lack of strategy and clarity as to how the budget will be affectively spent to tackle key areas of poverty and unemployment.

In reality, the dispute over the national budget is an off-shoot of the bitter disagreement over the Iraqi hydrocarbon law all that was all but postponed indefinitely due to deepening disagreements between the fractious groups in Iraq, over the rights and jurisdiction of regions in the distribution of Iraq’s immense oil wealth.

Add the heated-disputes over the unilateral signing of oil-exploration contracts by the KRG in defiance of the oil ministry and the increasingly shaky-ties with Prime Minister al-Maliki’s Shiite alliance become ever noticeable.

All the while in the foreground, politicians stutter towards a much-publicised drive to bring the nation closer to reconciliation, reconstruction and stability.

Recent Arab motions to effectively reign-in what they perceive as Kurdish overreaching only served to fuel increasing antagonism.

150 Arab lawmakers, including both Shiites and Sunnis, issued a memorandum criticising the ‘go-it-alone’ mindset of the Kurds and attributing their stance on the holding of the much-delayed referendum on oil-rich Kirkuk, and signing of independent oil-deals as a threat against national unity.

As tensions simmer, the Sunni population continue to demand more influence in the national security forces, more representation in government and more of a direct sway on the future blueprint of Iraq, starting with the amendments to the Iraqi constitution which they see as unrepresentative of Sunnis who largely boycotted the vote.

However, despite the recent much-hailed gestures, meeting bold Sunni demands, whilst simultaneously seeking concord between the KRG and Baghdad, would be near impossible, at the current way each party is driving their bargain at the negotiating table.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Hewler Post (Kurdish), Peyamner, Various Misc.