The Need for Interaction of Players

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dr. Mahmoud Vaezi

Vice President, Directorate of Foreign Policy Research,
Center for Strategic Research

After six years of war and unrest and thanks to prudence of the Baghdad government and support of political groups in containing extremist currents, Iraq has entered a new era over the past couple of years with improved security being one of the most important features of the new situation.

The new American administration now needs a new strategy under new Iraq in which the role played by Iraq’s influential neighbors is more colorful. Under the new situation where Iraq is regaining its political independence regional interaction should be taken into account as a way to bring the country out of the current crisis.

The US attack on Iraq in March 1994 and the occupation of the country created new conditions for Iraq and the region. The Bush administration by adopting inappropriate strategies and disregarding the ethnic-religious conditions ruling over Iraq as well as the outlooks of Iraqi statesmen tried to dictate its policies to Iraq which only added to its insecurity and instability and further crippled the state affairs.

Adoption of a unilateral approach and overlooking the countries with an influence in Iraq, particularly its neighbors, caused further complication of Iraq’s political, social, economic and security conditions. Ethnic violence and insecurity reached their peak in 2006 and military options failed to be effective. Continuation of this situation created concerns and worries for Iran and some other regional countries such as:

a.    Spread of insecurity and instability to the neighboring countries
b.    Possible disintegration of Iraq and its negative impacts on the region
c.    Turning Iraq into a base for al-Qaeda and other extremist and violent groups and elements

Under pressure from public opinion in the world and the US over the critical situation in Iraq, the Bush administration was forced to accept parts of Baker-Hamilton plan prepared by a group of Congressmen comprising Democrats and Republicans which offered more reasonable policies compared to those of the Bush administration. Among reasons that led to a change in the Bush administration’s approach in Iraq mention can be made of escalation of internal violence in the country which increased the possibility of its disintegration, as well as growing pressures and opposition of the US public opinion with the policies of Bush.

There were also different factors behind the Bush administration’s failure in Iraq the most important of which were inattention to the sociological, cultural and social realities in Iraq; overlooking the regional power structure and influential players in Iraq; mere reliance on military tools and tactics; and wrong speculations about the political trend as well as performance of political groups in Iraq particularly the people’s support for Islamist factions.

The outcome of this new approach was delegation of more tasks to the Iraqi government and holding of meetings in the presence of influential countries in Iraq as well as organizing several rounds of negotiations between Iran and the US.

Over the past two years, the Iraqi government with the support of the people and certain groups adopting a realistic stance in the political and security arena has succeeded in strengthening the Iraqi security forces, weakening the extremist currents and improving security. Among effective factors in restoring security and undermining extremism in Iraq was that many Iraqis particularly the Sunnis came to the conclusion that rebel and violent groups such as al-Qaeda were not only ineffective in maintaining and increasing their power but in case of coming to power would engage in their suppression and more unrest would emerge. For the same reason they preferred interaction with the Baghdad government to extremism.

The Need for a New Strategy

If the security agreement between the US and Iraq on gradual withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq and delegating security tasks to Iraqi officials is implemented properly it can be regarded a step towards the independence and sovereignty of the Iraqi government. Despite all the security improvements the situation in Iraq is still vulnerable.

From political and social points of view, the provincial council elections last month showed that the people of Iraq are now more serious in deciding their own fate and presence in the political scene particularly because the Sunni groups had active participation in the polls. This was another step forward towards democracy. From economic point of view too, with the improvement in security situation and due to the oil income, economic activities have also improved and the future trend is promising. With the improvement of security, political and economic situation opportunities and grounds for economic reconstruction, the rule of law and securing national interests are prepared more than before.

The new US administration needs a new Iraq strategy where political tools and tactics should take the place of force and military power and the influential neighboring countries such as Iran should be involved in settlement of Iraqi issues. It may be early to talk about major changes in the US strategy vis-à-vis Iraq and the region. But the assignment of Dennis Ross as the special envoy of the US secretary of state for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia considering his clear intellectual background cannot be a positive sign of change unless Ross and the US policies would change in practice in the wake of the new developments in the region.

During his election campaign, Barack Obama presented a plan for US troop withdrawal from Iraq over a period of 16 months. But according to the new administration’s strategy there will be a major troop pullback by the end of August 2010. Some 35,000 to 50,000 out of the 142,000 troops already in Iraq will remain in the country for training and consultation purposes.

The plan also cites interaction with the influential regional countries like Iran and Syria within a regional framework. In the meantime, many American commanders cast doubt on capability of the Iraqi forces in handling security issues independently and therefore underline the need for continued presence of American troops. There are also numerous problems in the way of US interactions with Iran and Syria.

The new US government must do away with this conflict in Washington’s policies and redefine the role of the regional players in Iraq’s political and security developments -- something that also shaped the strategy of the Bush administration in restoring stability to Iraq.

Another point is that America’s reduced military presence in Iraq is being coupled with boosting its political and intelligence presence which would cause a new type of rivalries and issues in Iraq.

Solutions to Iraq Impasse

Under the new conditions, Iraq is regaining its political independence and this provides a good opportunity for all the regional countries including Iran to look at Iraq not as an interventionist but as a partner and collaborator.

After experiencing the tense period of transition into a new system in Iraq, it now seems the situation in the country is so mature that all the neighboring countries could establish balanced relations with Baghdad without being concerned about behind-the-scene efforts of the rivals to influence the situation. Here the constructive role played by Iran is very significant.

The people of Iran and Iraq enjoy deep historical, ethnic and religious bonds and numerous common points but the presence of the Baathist regime and the anti-Iran power mongering government over the past decades has eliminated the possibility of friendly ties and imposed an 8-year war on IRI. However, the political structure of new Iraq which emanates from the constitution allows people’s participation in the government in proportion to their population.

This will create a situation where Iran will no more consider Iraq a threat, bilateral cooperation potentials can turn into practice and the two countries can enjoy friendly and strategic ties. Economic, political and cultural cooperation between Iran and Iraq have developed considerably in recent years which shows the strong will of the two nations and governments to have stable ties.

Iran always wants an independent, integrated, tranquil and stable Iraq that maintains friendly relations with its neighbors. Such a country can also secure the interests of Iran. Iran has done a lot so far in helping the Iraqi government. Stability and security building in Iraq has always been a main concern of Iran. Despite lack of diplomatic relations between Iran and US, Tehran held three rounds of talks with Washington over Iraq but the Bush administration failed to take advantage of the opportunity.

The new Iraq will now be able to accelerate fulfillment of its goals with the help of its neighbors and other influential countries. If the US and certain Arab neighbors of Iraq turn their policies towards supporting the Baghdad government we would face outbreak of more positive developments in the region.


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