Is Iraq coming apart?

No, in a word.  Not yet.  While the press waxes alarmist, what is happening resembles nothing more than the usual government “crisis” in a parliamentary system:  once the government loses its majority, it is supposed to fall. I’ve been through dozens of these in Italy.  There is no reason to get too excited about it in a country that has a parliamentary tradition.

Of course Iraq is not such a country.  This makes everyone–Iraqis and foreigners alike–a good deal more nervous about a government crisis than would be justified elsewhere.  We all fear that in Iraq crisis will mean violence, which does not yet seem to have been triggered, and autocracy, which Maliki’s opponents were warning of even before the latest events.

What has certainly happened already is that Maliki has turned to Iran to help shore up his hold on power.  This bodes ill, as it exacerbates sectarian tensions in Iraq by underlining Maliki’s Shia base and pitting it against Kurdish and Sunni forces.  We can only guess what Maliki now owes Tehran for its timely effort to unite Shia political forces in his favor.

There is an additional problem in Iraq:  constructing a new majority.  Prime Minister Maliki has long governed with changing majorities, depending on the issue.  This makes it very difficult for his opponents to construct a stable alternative. Maliki is not likely to want to leave office until they do so.  In the event of a successful vote of no confidence, this could lead to lengthy caretaker status, with his opponents claiming of course that he is no better than a dictator who doesn’t leave office when he is supposed to.

Early elections are another possibility.  Maliki’s opponents are not likely to want them.  Maliki might do well–polls show him gaining approval everywhere but in Kurdistan.  His opponents could end up losing cushy jobs and perqs.  It may just be bravado, but Maliki is behaving with the confidence of a prime minister who doesn’t fear a new election.

Some Americans may claim that Maliki’s turn towards Iran would never have happened if Washington had only left troops in Iraq.  The trouble with this idea is that Iraq’s democratically elected government did not want them.  Insisting would have strengthened the Iranians and deprived the U.S. of its current stance, which is that of an interested but not involved outside power.  That ultimately is a much better posture than the one the Iranians have got, which is deep involvement in Iraqi internal politics that is bound to cause resentment.

No, Iraq isn’t coming apart yet.  But it could.  We should be doing everything possible to prevent that outcome.  Most important in my view over the long term is working with Baghdad to make sure that a substantial portion of its increased oil and gas production is exported to the north (to Turkey) and west (to Jordan  and some day Syria) rather than through the Gulf and the strait of Hormuz.  It was a mistake not to have made this happen during the eight years of American military presence in Iraq.  But clever diplomats should be able to make it happen even now.

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2 thoughts on “Is Iraq coming apart?”

  1. In response to this via the Syria matter. There is a very narrow window and full blown civil war that will, make no doubt, ensue, will be of religious/ethnic kind that will set middle east on fire. ussia and America instead of going after their interest (which I respect) might need to recognize that going after those let us say petty interests, when compared that if they continue to pursue this matter in a non combined action there will be no interest for anybody, let alone interest that we gain from Syria. This spark could set the Middle East on fire. What could be solution. Help rebels to get to the power. Then we would have real genocide. And that would result in spilling the conflict over the borders. Complete crackdown on rebels (at this moment that among them there are several Al Qaeda members is off point) will result in same spill over. This is dangerous situation. Kuwait is funding and has philosophy of fighting for, one Ethnic/Religious group. Of course backed down by Saudi Arabia not only in money. If this issue in Syria does not remain issue of democracy and ability of changing those in power via popular vote (let’s engineer the way of counties or the like so those who are in power now can gain power again in some democratic process). If we do not succeed in this we are faced with the prospect of long therm conflict that will render whole world without resources we gather from that region. Parties outside of Syria that are economically involved must put pressure. Putin must not come out and make plain stupidity. He has to say instead of what he said and I do not car to repeat something like this: “We are fully aware of problem and we will in in cooperation with all the parties that have invested their interest in Syria try to enforce the peace, because we say it is not taking sovereignty from Syria but helping them gain one). And window to act on this is narrow one. Bomb the regime, cut down supplies of weapon to Syria’s rebels fro Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (and third parties usually involved with funding terrorist groups), cut funding and supply of weapons to Syria government from Russia and some satellites. This is the situation in whose if west and east do not “crack down” on parties involved in conflict in Syria and bring them to the table, not to negotiate an agreement, but to sign one (as in it was done with Dayton accord) we will be faced with an human and economical disaster. And I am not speaking only of Syria.

  2. Dan, I strongly agree with your last paragraph. The Iraqi leadership should be using their oil resources and the associated investment opportunities as the glue to hold the country together. Instead, the success of the bid round process in the south versus the lack of success to encourage investment in the north has contributed to the divide.

    I cannot count the number of times I heard Iraqis tell me “when it comes to making money we are all brothers…Kurd, Sunni or Shia”. I witnessed this many times on a small scale during my 75 months in Iraq. why not on the larger scale of increased northern production and exports? Why are they brothers when it comes to making $millions, but enemies when it comes to making $billions? Unfortunately, resolution of this northern oil issue and the resulting huge prize that would result remains elusive.

    Gary Vogler

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