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.