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Abdelbari ATWAN
atwan@stargazete.com
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The Regional Implications of Iraq’s Security Meltdown

22 Haziran 2012 Cuma

Since the US withdrew its forces from Iraq in December, the country has sunk into further turmoil and escalating sectarian violence. Nearly ten years after the initial invasion – itself of doubtful legitimacy – the US has largely abandoned Iraq to its fate. The consequences are not restricted to Iraq alone.

America’s promised regional model for a modern, democratic, united country has failed to materialize. The government is unable to function due to self-interest, corruption and feuding among those at the top. Last week 160 politicians signed a letter saying they had no confidence in the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Malaki, who has consolidated a personal, autocratic power base to rival that of deposed President Saddam Hussein.

Like Saddam, al-Maliki has retained control of the security apparatus; even though three separate security ministries were created with a view to sharing them between the three main blocs (Sunni, Shi’a, Kurdish), al-Maliki heads them all.

The carefully constructed sectarian balance within the government, which should have ensured power-sharing, has also been sabotaged by (Shi’a) al-Maliki. In December last year tanks surrounded the homes of Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, deputy Prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and finance minister Rafie al-Issawi – all Sunnis – in an intimidating attempt to chase them from office. A warrant for al-Hashemi’s arrest was subsequently issued, accusing him of terrorism and he fled the country for Turkey.

Corruption is rife – Transparency International ranked Iraq as the world’s eighth most corrupt country in the world in 2012. Tasked to deal with it, al-Malaki instigated proceedings, not against the legions of officials who secure millions of dollars’ worth of contracts through ‘front’companies, but against the head of the electoral commission who had approved bonuses of around $100 each for a handful of employees.

The new regime has impeded the political process and put all possible obstacles in its way, prevent a peaceful and productive co-existence between the Iraqi people and its political elite.

Indeed, some might argue that Iraq and the Iraqi people are worse off now than they were under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Before the invasion, there was no al-Qa’ida in Iraq - Osama bin Laden and Saddam held each other in contempt and were ideologically opposed. Now, the country is a hotbed of Islamic militancy with suicide attacks, car bombs and shootings at a level not seen in the country since the last wave of al-Qa’ida-inspired violence peaked in 2006.

June has been the bloodiest month this year and testifies to a revitalized al-Qa’ida presence in the country under the umbrella of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

The group has demonstrated wide reach and devastating operational capabilities. Last Wednesday saw a string of co-ordinated attacks across the country: 42 bombings, 18 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), 18 car bombs and six armed attacks struck Shi’a and security forces targets in Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul, Karbala, Kirkuk, Diyala, Haswa, Balad, Salahuddin and Anbar.

Following on from other attacks earlier in the month, Wednesday’s onslaught brought the total dead in June alone to over 150. This Saturday, renewed attacks on Shi’a pilgrims added at least a further 30 to the toll. The ISI has claimed responsibility for the carnage.

Before the US invasion, Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni Moslems lived harmoniously side by side, and mixed marriages were common-place. Now the country is mired in the sectarian conflict – fomented by Salafi-jihadi groups like al-Qa’ida/ISI – which threatens to engulf the entire region.

In the absence of  US troops, Iraq’s security services are unable to contain the insurgency, enabling al-Qa’ida and associated groups to establish a stronghold in the country which has a 400 kilometre, porous border with Syria.

As Syria plunges into a similar sectarian war, fighters from Iraq have migrated to the battle there, with their trademark suicide bombing and sophisticated IEDs.

In addition, the flow of light and heavy weapons to the opponents of the Syrian regime from countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries in coordination with the Turkish authorities, is increasing. Some of this arsenal inevitably ends up in the hands of the ISI via Salfi-jihadis fighting in Syria.

Al-Maliki’s government bears the greatest responsibility for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the country’s perilous descent into sectarian violence and chaos.

In 2006/2007, the US succeeded in turning large numbers of Sunni tribesmen against al-Qa’ida in the ‘Awakening’ campaign and paid 80,000 of them $300 a month to join the ‘Sons of Iraq’ militia. Having prevailed (temporarily) against al-Qa’ida, the Americans advised al-Maliki to incorporate these fighters into the regular military and security forces. Instead, he sacked most of them and even instigated prosecution proceedings against some of their leaders on terrorism charges. Now a large portion of these men have re-joined the insurgency.

Only the Kurds have benefitted from the disintegration of Iraq. Kingmakers in Baghdad, their own semi-autonomous region in Iraq is oil-rich, relatively stable and united. The largest nation on earth without a state – 30 million Kurds live in an area divided between Iraqi, Iranian, Turkish and Syrian political control – it will not be surprising if Iraq’s Kurdish people take advantage of the window of opportunity offered by unprecedented regional instability and declare an independent state in their north-easterly enclave.

Meanwhile, in a great historical irony, America’s regional nemesis, Iran, is consolidating its grip on Iraq thanks to al-Maliki and his cronies who spent their years of exile in the company of the Ayatollahs.

A region-wide sectarian conflict looks increasingly likely as Syria edges towards civil war. With the world’s superpowers aligning themselves either with the Shi’a bloc headed by Iran (Russia and China) or the Sunni bloc led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia (the West), the US may find itself engaged in a proxy war against the very people it came to ‘liberate’ in 2003.