Political Consensus: What Iraq Needs Today

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Siamak Kakaei
Expert on Iraq Issues

The political scene of Iraq has undergone remarkable changes subsequent to the withdrawal of American forces from the country, which may lead to big changes there. Charges leveled against the country’s first vice president and the ban on his exit from the country combined with his following trip to the Iraqi Kurdistan are rooted in political differences among various factions and political currents in the country. They claim that Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has been implicated in some terrorist operations. These charges along with declaration of autonomy by some Sunni-dominant provinces including Diyala and Salahuddin soon after the American troops left the country deserve more care and exploration. An interesting question is why Sunni-dominant provinces, which showed no interest in autonomy before, have become so interested in it now?

Attention to these facts will direct one’s mind to several points which stem from the existing political and social situation in Iraq. Nine years after the war began and the country was occupied by the American troops, the US decided to withdraw its forces. Subsequent to the withdrawal, certain points about political and future situation of the country have been highlighted.

Both the Iraqi government and certain political currents and groups (mostly Shia) have welcomed the withdrawal of the American troops from the country. The religious Sources of Emulation are among those groups that hailed the exit of foreign forces from the country and noted that it marked revival of Iraq’s sovereignty after many years of war and occupation. They believe that Iraq can be rebuilt on the basis of partnership as well as coexistence of various ethnic and religious currents and groups. They also maintain that Iraq is in transition to a new juncture of its history where all the country’s affairs will be in the hands of the Iraqis. This means that returning the control to Iraqis is the main concern in transition period because this is a time when the Americans do not sway influence, at least, in military terms.

There are also other considerations which should be taken into account. Those Iraqi groups which call for the American troops to remain in the country have offered several reasons for their assumptions. Their reasons form a broad spectrum which spans from tendencies of certain ethnic and religious groups inside the country, to remarks by the American Republicans who are opposed to complete withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq. All of them believe that in the absence of the US forces, the situation in Iraq may totally change. Even people like Senator Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the country’s chief of joint staffs have noted that withdrawal of the US troops may exacerbate insecurity in Iraq. Opponents of troop withdrawal are of the opinion that the situation in Iraq is not normal yet and, therefore, the country’s officials are not in a position to take charge of various affairs. Iraq is, therefore, going through a historical juncture when social gaps which may cause crisis are influenced by both domestic factors and foreign provocations.

Some of these gaps include: 1. Ethnic and religious crises; 2. The issue of Kirkuk; 3. Differences between the Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government over several issues; 4. Different issues related to control of security in Iraq such as terrorist incidents; and 5. Disparities among political parties and leaders over how to manage various affairs in the country. Such gaps have become more evident now.

Several possibilities can be considered for future Iraq in the light of the aforesaid gaps. Since many years ago, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue which is led by Saleh Muhammed al-Mutlaq, has been at odds with al-Iraqiya Bloc, which is led by Iyad Allawi, the former Iraqi prime minister. Before parliamentary elections in 2010, there were profound differences between various political factions which led to formation of different election alliances. After some political currents joined al-Iraqiya and the bloc was openly supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, as a result of which it won a number of parliamentary seats, the bloc started to oppose the government’s policies. Although such differences were predictable, they prevented establishment of the new Iraqi government for about ten months. This political deadlock in Iraq was subsequently solved through mediation of foreign players and negotiations among Iraq’s political groups. Al-Iraqiya, however, continued its opposition to the government and its leader, al-Allawi refused the post proposed to him by the government.

Some analysts are concerned that the current political crisis in Iraq will exacerbate as Iraqi groups will, under the influence of external factors, try to get a bigger chunk of the power pie. Under these circumstances, the Saudi Arabia is using its leverage to create chaos in Iraq’s political trend and other factors are also in work to cause turbulence in the country which may finally cause changes in Iraq. The conflicts we see in Iraq are not unrelated to peripheral factors around Iraq as well as various expectations of different political groups.

Joe Biden has asked the Iraqi government to suffice to negotiating with Iraq’s political groups. As a result and in view of what has happened in recent weeks, the position of those who were opposed to withdrawal of the American forces has been strengthened.

Even inside the United States, analysts who talked about possible security and political crisis in Iraq following withdrawal of foreign forces are now alleging that early signs of a political crisis in the country are on the horizon and perhaps those signs were there as soon as US troops started to leave the country.

Some analysts believe that the United States had created a kind of balance among various political groups and had managed to establish political stability in the country. This viewpoint has advocates inside the United States. In Iraq, however, many people who opposed US presence in their country believe that taking control of the political governance is a priority for the Iraqis. Also, the practice of political partnership in recent years has helped political groups to try to narrow the gap among their ideas and avoid of ushering the country into the vortex of a major crisis.

Therefore, any analysis of US withdrawal from Iraq and future outlooks for Washington’s diplomacy in that country should take three points into consideration.

1. The United States is still trying to secure its foothold among various political groups and factions in Iraq. Washington is even trying to continue contacts with the former Baathist elements or members of al-Iraqiya bloc while, at the same time, maintaining good relations with the Iraqi government in an effort to sway influence over forthcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq.

2. Security is the second issue of importance to the United States. Americans are willing to keep some forces in Iraq to protect their embassy and other American premises in that country. They have been even trying to get judicial immunity for them. The main strategy of the United States in Iraq, however, is to keep the US influence in the country and form Iraq’s military apparatus on the US model which is of very high significance to Washington. In this way, it would be able to take control of the Iraqi military in the future on the basis of the said model. Selling weaponry and modernization of the Iraqi army are also on the US agenda.

3. Reconstruction of Iraq is the third concern. Reconstruction of Iraq and US presence in that process, especially in the reconstruction of Iraq’s oil sector to boost oil output and encourage investment in the sector in order to bring Iraq’s economy under the control of the American companies are major components of Washington’s strategy in Iraq. The United States does not want to lose Iraq. Although they talk about troop withdrawal, at the same time, the Americans are laying necessary grounds to keep and even bolster the US influence in the Middle Eastern country.

If differences continue in Iraq, it will pave the way for further interference of the United States and will strengthen the position of those parties which call for longer stay of the Americans in the country. Iraq is plagued with political developments and the best way to weather them, passes through political consensus. The consensus must be forged among various groups on the basis of the experiences they have gained in recent years in various political areas. They should give priority to Iraq’s national interests over their own considerations and do their best to maintain territorial integrity of the country. The experience that different Iraqi groups have gained in the past few years is very valuable and should be taken advantage of to improve political and social conditions in the country. This is a strategic approach to political future of Iraq in which parties should not seek their share of the political power on the basis of purely party-related concerns. Their main goal, however, should be to protect the national interests of Iraq. This country is home to multiple nationalities and religious tendencies which is, per se, a breeding ground for crisis unless its politicians learn from past experiences in their effort to build the future.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

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