Thursday, November 11, 2010

Iraq - An Analysis

The political fiasco that has dominated Iraq for the past eight months is, it seems, finally over. The power sharing agreement will see the Kurds retaining control of the Iraqi presidency, Nouri al Maliki remaining for a second term as a prime minister, and Iyad Allawi has been given a strangely created role as head of a 'strategic decision making department' of some form or other. Not surprisingly, Allawi does not seem to be happy with this arrangement and might, in spite of US pleadings, refuse a role in the government, although allowing members of his bloc to take up jobs in the new government.

There are a number of questions that arise out of all of this; firstly, what on earth was that all about? Well it seems that the regional powers in the region have each backed a particular player in all of this, and the eight month stand-off, not surprisingly, was not due to some inability of the Iraqi's to rule themselves but of finding a way to accomodate between the different interests which were in conflict. The United States has had a profound dislike of al Maliki who, during his years in exile, built excellent relations with Syria, Hezbullah and Iran. In fact he even resided in Syria up until the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. His recent visit, and Iran's widely viewed support for his re-election, was a clear sign of his alignment with the Tehran/Damascus alliance.

Iyad Allawi, on the other hand, appears to be supported by the American-led axis in the region. It is interesting to note that The Guardian Newspaper, a leading left-wing newspaper based in the United Kingdom, always takes care to label Allawi as a 'secular' candidate. One thing any follower of the events in recent years will notice is a uniform revulsion held by both the right and left, of Iran, and this is expressed through the type of coverage that the country receives even by media outlets that are perceived normally to be opposed to American interventions in the region. Coming back to Allawi, it is interesting to note that most of his exile was in the United Kingdom. Also interesting is that in 1990, the CIA began funding his group and there is a familial relation with Ahmed Chalabi although no direct connection between the two politically speaking.

All the facts I have come across whilst analysing this stand-off points to it being a clash between these two key figures. The Kurds, it seems through some kind of Turkish mediation as well, have been watching from afar as this isn't really their battle. It seems they recognise that regional powers, such as Iran, will have to be recognised as a reality, and they will not do anything to anger Tehran although they will also not cross Washington. Overall, they've avoided siding with either of these two enemies and the announcement of the government appears to demonstrate this.

The result of this stand-off shows once again the power of Iran's influence in the region, although the ridicule and borderline hysteric coverage of Western news outlets towards Iran masks this fact from passive observers. Allawi's refusal to accept a post in the new government, which seems to me more like an appeasement that will not give him any real power, will unlikely return Iraq to the uncertainty of the past eight months, something that the United States appears to recognise. Instead, Washington seems to want him to follow a policy of "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer", meaning they want him to at least have a foot in the door regardless of what influence he might be able to corner. If he wants to remain America's man in the country, and become prime minister again, then he would be wise to accept this outcome and bide his time for a more favourable opportunity in the future, should it arise. Then again, he will be sitting in a very different Iraq, one which is now firmly aligning with the Damascus/Tehran alliance, so he might recognise that this was his one chance to try to divert the course. It seems, however, that this is too little, too late.

A very important question on my mind has been who is behind killing the Christians of Iraq. Things have become especially bad for them recently and a lot of publicity has been focused on what has been happening to them. Apparently it is al Qaeda in Iraq - whoever they are - that are behind the attacks. The public calls for Iraqi Christians to leave the country, the intense coverage by Western news agencies all show that these attacks have been fortuitous to somebody, but that does not tell us who is directly responsible, only that some parties might be able to capitalise on this in future. One thing is certain, an Iranian-aligned Iraqi government will not see such attacks, or any kind of further instability and destruction in Iraq, as in its interest.

As is the case in Lebanon, there is now an intensifying tug-of-war between Tehran and Washington. What is worrying will be that once every avenue for the Americans is closed, what else can we expect from them and the Israelis? That question might be answered very soon...

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