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Iraq: Teetering Between Hope & Despair!
 
As is my wont of following the world news on some European channels, both radio and television, I was struck this week by the dearth of coverage about Iraq...

13 September   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... Only one year ago, we would have been inundated with endless stories about what is occurring in this unfortunate country. Yet, despite some serious developments on the ground let alone regionally, it felt that the unpredictable nature of the media had become tired of Iraq. It seems there are other stories to chase these days.

This media fatigue in broad terms about Iraq does not mean that the country is finally in good shape. Over the past few months, I have written about the impact of the redeployment of US troops from Iraqi city centres, as well as about the parliamentary elections in Kurdistan or those that will take place nationally in January 2010 and their impact not only on Iraqis but also on regional alliances and interests. But today, I would like to highlight two events drawing my interest.

The first event is the portentous diplomatic spat between Iraq and Syria over the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq that sadly resulted once more in bloody fatalities amongst its long-suffering people. But in this instance, Iraq robustly accused Syria of facilitating those attacks through their porous borders, leading to the recall of ambassadors, the higher decibels of mutual accusations and then the expected meetings and smiles feigning that all is well in the political arena between them. However, a closer analysis of what the Syrian and Iraqi officials stated would indicate that the two countries are still very much in the midst of an unresolved crisis. Iraq believes that Syria is fomenting instability in Iraq, and so resists any such ploys by saying that it will never become another Lebanon-like theatre. Syria, on the other hand, rejects any such political intentions.

The reality, I believe, is a bit more complex than what is being fed to the public in general. In fact, it is self-evident that Iraq has been a zone of conflicting interests between many regional powers as much as local actors. On the regional level, the main players at the moment are Syria, Iran and the USA, with each party attempting to market its interests by checkmating those of the other. As far as Syria is concerned, it is not solely a matter of the historical enmity between two political systems or ideologies, but equally one of regional and international spheres of influence. Syria wishes to remind the West that it is a major player who could either stabilise or destabilise the region as a function of the political realities affecting it. Iran is also another key actor, and it is interesting to note that the two main mediators in this crisis were / are Turkey and Iran - not the Arab League - with the former trying to burnish its Islamic and regional credentials, and the latter strengthening the cards it holds largely in its negotiations with the 5+1 Group over its nuclear programme. Within this wider constellation, the Iraqi actors themselves are divided in terms of loyalty and fealty, and are tugging the country into divergent crossroads.

The other alarming issue is the persistent tension in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh between the ruling Sunni-Arab Al-Hadba list which now enjoys majority representation in the provincial council and the Kurdish Nineveh Brotherhood list. The live tensions have placed the governor on a collision course with the Kurds, and there are constant recriminations about the future of this region within a larger Iraq as well as threats about possible boycotts or even unilateral independence.

One major source of tension is the Iraqi Arab concern that Iraqi Kurds aspire to annex those ‘disputed territories’ into the Kurdistan Region, whereas the Kurds are insisting upon a restoration of the original demographics of the disputed cities - in accordance with the much-delayed implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution - that were altered forcibly and inequitably as a result of the policy of Arabisation pursued by the late president Saddam Hussein who uprooted vast numbers of Iraqi Kurds from their homes and substituted them with Iraqi Arabs from the southern provinces and governorates.

The diplomatic tussle between Syria and Iraq needs to be resolved in such a way that Iraq does not become an even nastier theatre of operations for foreign powers but preserves a modicum of its sovereignty as it attempts to re-edify the country and salvage it from the ruins that preceded - and also followed - two Gulf wars. As for the latest Iraqi Arab-Kurdish tensions, it is critical to check them too and so disallow further fragmentation of the country in a way that could boomerang against them.

But here again, I come back to my principal thesis: it is up to Iraqis - Shi’is, Sunnis, Kurds and all other smaller communities - to undergird the stability of their country and lead it back to a prosperity based on investing in its abundant human and oil resources as a forerunner for the peace that all Iraqi leaders without exception owe to their constituents. Nobody is going to care much about Iraq when its own leaders choose not to stand together and manifest solidarity against all transgressions.

The political omens today, with Iraqis coming toward the end of the holy month of Ramadan and ‘Id el Fitr, are tentative. The country is still torn, as it teeters between hope and despair, so what will be the bold choice of its leaders?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   13 September

 

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