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NEWS & ANALYSIS: Is Iraq falling apart?

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"Is Iraq falling apart?" a Time blogger asked on Thursday?[1]  --  It certainly looks that way.  --  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now carrying out a plan to purge the Iraqi government of rival centers of power.  --  The result, as the Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday, is a "political crisis" in which "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has brought terrorism charges against Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, is moving to oust Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq from his position, and has threatened to take away the nine cabinet seats held by the largely Sunni Iraqiyya bloc and replace them with members of his own Shiite governing coalition."[2]  --  "[A] return to open civil war in Iraq is a real possibility," said Dan Murphy.  --  COMMENT:  Maliki's strategy follows the time-worn formula of pushing the other fellow up against a wall, slapping him around, and calling him an aggressor when he fights back.  --  On the home front, Americans can look forward to a "who lost Iraq?" debate.  --  But UFPPC never bought into the narrative according to which the "surge" had saved the American project in Iraq from being a failure.  --  In mid-2007, in "Iraq Is Collapsing, but U.S. Media Decline to Report the Fact" we noted that prestigious analysts were pointing out that the Iraqi government "is now largely powerless and irrelevant in many parts of the country" (as Vice President al-Hashemi's taking refuge in Kurdistan is now illustrating) and that "Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation."  --  Four and a half years ago, any hope of a positive outcome was said to depend on a political solution requiring "Sunni Arab representatives' participation in government, the recognition of radical Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr as a legitimate political partner, and a positive response to Kurdish concerns."  --  Only one of these has happened (reintegration of the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and his forces).  --  As a result, the notion that we are merely seeing an "unstable transition," as Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the ExxonMobil-funded Center for Strategic and International Studies argued,[1] is implausible.  --  But in fact even this U.S. national security state thinker admits that Iraq was a "grand strategic failure."  --  “U.S. and Iraqi forces scored impressive tactical victories against the insurgents in Iraq from 2005-2009, but the U.S. invasion now seems to be a de facto grand strategic failure in terms of its cost in dollars and blood, its post-conflict strategic outcome, and the value the U.S. could have obtained from different uses of its political, military, and economic resources,” Cordesman said.  --  The winner of the Iraq war, Cordesman concluded, was Iran.  --  "Iran seems likely to be the de facto winner of the U.S. invasion of Iraq," he said.  --  Murphy forgets to report one other winner:  Big Oil, now in the process of recovering the profits from Iraq's immense oil reserves, which had been lost when Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraqi oil in 1972....


1.

Iraq

IS IRAQ FALLING APART?

By Mark Thompson

Time

December 22, 2011

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/12/22/is-iraq-falling-apart/


Less than a week after the final U.S. troops pulled out, a string of more than a dozen bombings have left more than 60 dead in largely Shiite neighbors around Baghdad.  It apparent signals a resumption of the Shiite-Sunni violence that Saddam Hussein -- and then the U.S. military -- kept largely bottled up for decades.  “These are the kinds of attacks that can take Iraq right back to 2006” when the country found itself amid a civil war, warns Stephen Biddle, an Iraq expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

But the attacks -- and more like them sure to come -- don’t necessarily mean the country is falling apart, says Anthony Cordesman, military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  “This kind of unstable transition is almost typical of what happens under these conditions, and Iraq may muddle through,” he says.  “This political power struggle may actually catalyze something approaching a real national compromise.”  But Cordesman, in a report released Wednesday, concludes the war was a misadventure for Washington.

“U.S. and Iraqi forces scored impressive tactical victories against the insurgents in Iraq from 2005-2009, but the U.S. invasion now seems to be a de facto grand strategic failure in terms of its cost in dollars and blood, its post-conflict strategic outcome, and the value the US could have obtained from different uses of its political, military, and economic resources,” he writes.

So who won?  “Unless the U.S. does act far more decisively, Iran seems likely to be the de facto winner of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,” Cordesman adds.  “It now enjoys deep ties in a neighboring country with which it once fought a fierce and bloody eight-year war.  Iran has a great deal of cultural, military, and economic resources available to influence Iraq.  Moreover, Prime Minister [Nouri Al-] Maliki may have alienated enough Sunnis, and caused enough Kurdish fears to make him and other Shi’ite [sic] steadily more dependent on Iran.”

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney made clear Wednesday that the U.S. troops withdrawal has anything [sic]to do with any violence that comes afterward.  “Maybe folks weren’t paying attention, but political disputes have been happening while there were 40,000 troops, 80,000 troops, 150,000 troops,” Carney said.  “We certainly expect that there will be difficult days ahead in Iraq, but the progress has been substantial.”

But even before the latest bombings, debate was breaking out in Washington over whether or not the nearly nine-year U.S.-led war was “worth it” -- as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and several of his senior military commanders, have recently declared.  The bottom line in Iraq remains the same:  if the country returns to civil war in the coming months, of what value were the nearly 4,500 U.S. deaths, 30,000-plus U.S. woundings, and the expenditure of about $1 trillion by U.S. taxpayers?

“Americans planted a tree in Iraq,” Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said.  “They watered that tree, pruned it, and cared for it.  Ask your American friends why they’re leaving now before the tree bears fruit.”

The American line has shifted from victory to opportunity.

U.S. troops have “given Iraq the opportunity for a better future, to define for themselves what the way ahead is and to define what a sovereign, free, and democratic Iraq should look like,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday.

“It’s their ring to grasp,” Navy Captain John Kirby added.

Some of us are old enough to remember riding the carousel, and reaching for that brass ring.  The ride cost a dime.

2.

Back channels

WITH U.S. GONE, IRAQ'S MALIKI IS SETTING THE BOARD FOR A POWER GRAB

By Dan Murphy

** Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has wasted little time since the US departure, with politically motivated terrorism charges against his Sunni vice president and moves to oust other opponents from the government. **

Christian Science Monitor

December 22, 2011

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/1221/With-US-gone-Iraq-s-Maliki-is-setting-the-board-for-a-power-grab

Iraq is in political crisis, less than a week after the formal end of direct U.S. involvement in the war there.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has brought terrorism charges against Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, is moving to oust Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq from his position, and has threatened to take away the nine cabinet seats held by the largely Sunni Iraqiyya bloc and replace them with members of his own Shiite governing coalition.

Mr. Hashemi, a Sunni Islamist who heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, is a member of the Iraqiyya bloc, and had a number of close family members murdered during Iraq's civil war.  Hashemi had some ties to Iraq's insurgency during the worst of the fighting (when former Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was released by her Sunni kidnappers in 2006, she was dropped off in front of his office) but has worked as much as any on his side of the fence to forge sectarian reconciliation in the years since.

But now he has fled to Kurdistan, where he's being shielded from his arrest warrant.  In a televised news conference today, Mr. Maliki threatened the Kurdish north with "problems" if they don't hand over Hashemi.

Iraqiyya's legislators have walked out of parliament while the group attempts to hang on to its cabinet seats, which are the valves of political patronage in the new Iraq.  While Maliki's threat to simply appoint his own ministers is unconstitutional, the Constitution has been increasingly ignored when inconvenient.

With Iraqiyya being politically hounded, a return to open civil war in Iraq is a real possibility.  The group effectively represents Sunni interests in the country.  Sunni voters turned out enthusiastically in 2010 after past electoral boycotts, and the group was in effect an experiment in whether they could gain a real political voice in the country through the ballot box.  The failure of that experiment will send a worrying message.

How did we get here?  Last year, Maliki and fellow Shiite politicians deftly outmaneuvered Iraqiyya to hold on to power after elections.  The new prime minister assured his erstwhile American benefactors and Iraq's Sunni Arabs that power-sharing arrangements would be found to mollify fears that a new tyranny of the majority was emerging in Iraq.  That's one reason three "vice president" posts were created, including the one Hashemi now holds.

Sure, Iraqiyya had won a plurality of seats in the new parliament and so by rights should have been allowed to form Iraq's government.  But Maliki had simply cobbled together a stronger coalition, all part of the democratic game.  Fears that Shiite Islamists will lord it over Iraq's Sunni Arab minority (about 40 percent of the population)?  Don't worry, Maliki said.  I'm creating a super-committee to share power to give Iyad Allawi (the former Baathist who leads Iraqiyya) a meaningful seat at the table.

The powerful defense and interior ministries?  Maliki said:  Don't worry, we'll set those aside for now but I'm sure a reasonable compromise will be worked out to place respected figures in those posts who will quell concerns they're being transformed into tools of political oppression.

But almost exactly a year after Maliki's government was formed, defense and interior are directly controlled by the prime minister, something that is probably illegal under the new Iraqi Constitution that the U.S. helped to write.  The power-sharing committee?  It still doesn't exist.  Sectarian tensions and fears?  They have been heightened in the interim with the latest moves against Hashemi and the rest of Iraqiyaa the cherry on top.

Many in the United States continue to misunderstand what's been happening in the U.S.-Iraq relationship for the past five years.  The U.S. desire to restore sovereignty to Iraq culminated in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement signed by President George W. Bush that called for complete withdrawal by the end of this year.  Many in the U.S. establishment hoped that an extended stay would be worked out in the interim.

But in Iraq, the U.S. occupation (widely described by that term there long after the U.S. had given up governing powers) was deeply unpopular.  Maliki and the Shiite Islamist politicians around him, who plotted the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime from Tehran, Amman, and Beirut for decades, were eager to see the back of America's army.

After the U.S. troop surge in 2007 helped tamp down Iraq's tragic sectarian bloodletting, and with a reconstituted Iraqi Army and police force packed with Shiites and built on the U.S. dime, they had little use for extended U.S. influence in the country.  So Maliki refused to give President Barack Obama extended permission for a large troop presence in the country.

This was not only predictable from an analysis of Iraqi politics and the preferences of men like Maliki, it was largely unavoidable.  While those involved in the partisan punditry game, like the Washington Post editorial board -- which argues today that the current crisis is Obama's fault (his administration "risked just such a breakdown when it disregarded the recommendation of its military commanders that some U.S. forces remain in Iraq to help guarantee against a return to sectarian conflict") -- suggest that U.S. troops could have remained, they don't seem aware of the difficulties involved.

To stay without explicit Iraqi permission would be in effect another reoccupation, with an Iraqi prime minister transformed from ambivalence to the U.S. to open hostility.  Without the immunity protections of the old SOFA, U.S. troops could be seized and tried under Iraqi law, the same law being wielded against Hashemi now.  What then?  Another war for regime change?

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2011 17:40