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Six weeks later, where does Iraq stand today?
On 21st February, an ambulance rushed me into hospital for an emergency operation. Six hazy weeks later, as I re-entered the realm of political reality, I cast a look at the latest developments in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and the wider region...

10 April   |   2007   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... After all, much had happened in those long weeks, not least a major Arab summit meeting in Riyadh that had offered the tools of peace for the whole region as well as a captive-taking crisis between Iran and the United Kingdom.

So what about Iraq? My last contribution to SOMA just before my operation had focused on the pros and cons of the American surge in the number of troops in Iraq (largely, though not solely, in Baghdad) and the joint security drive by Iraqi and American forces to rid the country of its deadly hotchpotch of militias, insurgents, disgruntled politicians and terrorists.

Today, I must admit that I have ambivalent feelings about the current security drive. On the one hand, and as I follow the reports coming out of Iraq on Jazeera, TV5, BBC World or independent web-blogs, I am horrified at the number of daily deaths and casualties. Ambushes and attacks are still felling down Iraqis in anonymously frightening numbers, and American or British losses are mounting too. These are innocent victims of an unfortunate war, and despite the attempts of the US Administration to tame the violence with more manpower, the killings and violence continue remorselessly.

In fact, one has only to look at hotspots such as Ramadi, Diwaniyyeh, Meqdadiyyeh, Ba’quba or Mahmoudiyyeh to realise the perils facing ordinary Iraq let alone the dissensions and fractures that are being created between Iraqis themselves. For instance, some members of the police force in Diwaniyyeh are now being placed under house arrest for fear that they are aiding and abetting the Mahdi Army in their brutal attacks against American and Iraqi forces. Add to such a scenario the fact that the government has now reversed its erstwhile policy of total de-ba’athification by encouraging former lower-ranking Ba’ath members to rejoin the ruling cadres, and it is not too hard to understand the suspicion that many Iraqis harbour against each other - on confessional and individual levels - let alone their vitriol against a foreign occupying force.

However, despite those problems, I also feel faintly heartened by a situation that might be improving a tiny bit. After all, some pundits claim that the American surge is overwhelming Iraqi insurgency, although I believe that a lot of it resembles a cat and mouse game whose long-term effect is verily debatable. After all, as we witnessed time and again over the past four years, those insurgents are mobile and move from location to location with remarkable ease. As such, capturing them is neither an easy or short-term goal. Nonetheless, I believe that PM Maliki’s government is providing a somewhat better and more consistent leadership in his drive to quell the endemic violence in the country regardless of many obvious pressures.

But despite such timid progress, it is clear the situation still remains acutely critical, and just like six weeks ago, I maintain that the US Administration was disingenuously wrong to invade Iraq. This is evidenced by the political cleavage that has been accentuated dramatically now that Democrats hold the majority in both Houses. But equally unsettling is a recent report in the Sunday Telegraph claiming that the UK plans to keep its forces in Iraq until 2012. Is it any wonder that such reports (whether accurate or otherwise) fuel further the rising regional tensions between Arabs and Muslims with the West?

All those developments are taking place at a time when the different parties in Kurdistan set up a Higher Council that is meant to broaden democratic participation among its political parties. This is a noteworthy local development, and Kurdistan should be applauded for setting another example of state-building. However, it remains to be seen whether this Council - despite its lofty principles - would succeed to protect the rights of all peoples in Kurdistan, including those of minorities such as the Turkmen or Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. It needs to be seen also whether an ambitious Kurdish political entity - headed by one of the two traditional Kurdish leaders (Masoud Barzani, KDP) - will succeed in working harmoniously with the Iraqi central authorities whose president is the other traditional Kurdish leader (Jalal Talabani, PUK).

Six weeks into my forced absence from politics, Iraq still struggles to come to terms with the sectarian warfare that resulted with the removal of a bloody dictator and has almost led the entire Middle East to the brink of catastrophe. Today, Iraqi men, women and children are still paying the daily price of the geopolitical interests of forces that are largely anchored outside their country - whether in neighbouring countries or across the vast seas. Yet there are also some tentative signs of hope that might just thrive if only more diplomatic heads prevailed over more arrogant ones. 

Do I have any sense of real optimism about Iraq today? My time in hospital admittedly introduced some positive and helpful changes on the ground, but alas, the train that left the station in 2003 is in my opinion still careening out of control.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2007   |   10 April


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