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Iraqi Political Vignettes!
I have not written for SOMA in a while, so the first thing I had to do when deciding to put pen to paper - or megabytes to hard disk - was to choose the theme for my current piece...

25 May   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... After all, whilst it is true that some things tend to alter quite dramatically in Iraq, at least when viewed from our European end of the global periscope, it is equally true that the core issues I have opined about for some years now have remained petulantly resistant to change albeit in varying forms and intensity.

So would I choose to write about the small communities that are often mislabelled as minorities and which are at the receiving end of a large measure of discrimination and pressure? Or should I focus on the resurgence of violence that rears its ugly head in the country every time one talks about prospects and timelines of an American drawdown? Or should it be about the Sunni-Shi’i rivalries that often seem as deadly in their political ideology as they are unbridgeable in their theology? Or perhaps I should touch upon the sensitive matter of the over-10,000 Iraqis and a number of foreigners who have disappeared - many of them kidnapped - only to be released in return for unaffordable ransoms? Or should I re-centre on the Kurdish-Arab political one-upmanship that is making parts of the country teeter on the edge of another tense standoff in the Iraqi social mosaic?

Mind you, I suppose I could also play it “safe” and comment on the day-to-day developments in Iraq, with the wanton killings, arm-twisting, fear-mongering or deal-making, but we in Europe are thousands of miles away and are often less equipped - and less entitled - at assessing them. Besides, should we allow ourselves to be sucked into the minutiae of every-day politics, or ought we to offer our perceptions only in the hope that they could become helpful brushstrokes for those living in the country?

So my different political vignettes in this piece become relevant in underlining succinctly a set of stalemates that dog the whole country, so they might possibly focus the minds of politicians on the need to reform them or else suffer the consequences. To paraphrase Groucho Marx obversely, “This is my pretext. If you don’t like it, well, I have a lot of others.”

So to start with, let me encourage Iraqis preparing for their forthcoming parliamentary elections to establish a new national compact with a clear set of priorities. After all, despite a noticeable decrease of violence in the country, there are still outbreaks of fighting in Baghdad - for example, between the Sunni Sons of Iraq and the Iraqi Army - that keep politics dysfunctional and plant the allied army units squarely in the combustible mix. Fundamental conflicts over the division of power and the allocation of disputed [often oil-rich] territories and the management or sharing of those resources continue to simmer without much prospect for early progress. One danger I see from this political stasis is that if such pending matters are not addressed soon, they could well result in an enhanced struggle between Kurdish and Arab nationalism. This is why it is high time to conclude an agreement on a federal hydrocarbons law, as well as a settlement over Kirkuk and over the division of powers that would jointly pave the way for a consensus on introducing the necessary amendments into the Iraqi constitution.

But what could be done about Kirkuk? Last month, the UN handed the Iraqi government a report that might facilitate an end to decades of deadlock. It contained four options to help overcome disputes over control of Kirkuk and recommendations on fourteen other contested areas in northern Iraq. The options treated the province as a single unit, with each UN option put forward requiring a political agreement - admittedly a gargantuan task in itself - followed by a referendum.

And what is happening with Iraqi refugees? There are 3.8 million refugees who packed their belongings and fled to safety as a result of six years of sectarian killing. About 1.8 million were displaced internally, whilst the rest left the country - mostly to Syria or Jordan. According to the UN, only 195,000 internally displaced Iraqis came back to their own homes by end-2008, but officials hope that this figure could soon reach 400,000 in case of a possible improvement in the pulse of the country.

Finally, what about the marginalised smaller communities? Those disparate groups together share a commitment to the idea of a unified and multi-cultural country. Yet, the sustained pressures challenging them have resulted not only in multiple killings in Mosul or elsewhere in the country but in scores of them becoming refugees in the Kurdish provinces, with some groups even calling for an autonomous ‘safe zone’ centred on the Nineveh Plain as the optimal - although in my opinion decidedly rash and unhelpful - egress toward their physical security.

Iraq is a huge country, fertile, strategic and rich, that is caught up in a vortex of interests as much of its own making as that of other regional and global powers. If it wishes to extricate itself from its internecine struggles and move forward, its leaders should put the broader good ahead of narrower sectarian claims and then - vitally - educate their constituencies to do likewise.

My timorous query today is whether Iraqi sagacity and nous will help achieve this self-evident but mammoth task

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   25 May


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