Iraq: A New Era for the War-Torn Nation?

Photo credits: The New York Times
Photo credits: The New York Times

It is an undeniable fact that the Iraq war ended up becoming the most egregious failure in half a century of American foreign policy[1] and that the invasion somehow created the conditions for the continuous conflict on the inside of the country- which has now become something close to a failed state[2].

The occupation of Iraq has cost a vast amount of blood and treasure for all involved and tarnished the United States’ reputation for international leadership, honesty, morality, and even basic competence[3]. Moreover, the ongoing liquid situation at the wider region of the Middle East has had an enormous impact on Iraq, mostly due to the consequences of the Syrian civil war. The Kurdish issue is on the front page again, after the recent Iraqi Kurds historic election, creating a new status for the country and marking very clearly that Iraq is in fact entering into a new era.

The current situation in Iraq could be divided into two chapters: one on the internal affairs and one for the external issues. Concerning the domestic domain and the internal affairs, terrorism plays a principal role, together with the recent Iraqi Kurds elections. As far as the sector of the external affairs is concerned, a unique liaison between the recent development in Syria and the wider idea of the so-called Arab spring create a particular combination of geopolitics due to its special geostrategic position.

Although the level of violence has decreased since its worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures [4]. Currently, Iraq is divided between Shiite religious parties, such as Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, and secular and Sunni parties, creating a delicate detonating climate. One of the greatest characteristics is the terror that dominates in the Iraqi society due to the continuous terrorist attacks that have killed a tragic number of Iraqis. The most recent attacks took place on Thursday, October 17 when a barrage of car bomb and suicide bomb blasts rocked Baghdad and two northern Iraqi communities, killing at least 61 people during the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha constituting the deadliest day in Iraq since October 2005. Also, a suicide bombing targeting Shiite pilgrims and other attacks left at least 75 dead, while Iraq’s branch of al-Qaida is believed to be behind much of the killing as part of its campaign to undermine the Shiite-led government[5] . Moreover, a few days earlier, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had condemned in the strongest terms a string of bombings which have killed or wounded scores of Iraqis ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday and he called Iraqi leaders to work for political unity and bring the country back from the brink of sectarian violence [6]. Stability seems to be more than a vital priority for these societies, bearing in mind that nearly 1,000 Iraqis were killed and more than 2,000 wounded in acts of terrorism and violence last month, according to the UN Mission in Iraq[7].

The United Nations human rights Office called on the Iraqi Government to immediately halt all executions immediately following reports that authorities put 42 individuals to death over the past days. The number of people being executed in Iraq has risen from 18 in 2010 to 67 in 2011, 123 in 2012, and so far there have been 140 casualties this year. The Government maintains that it only executes individuals who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes against civilians, and have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005.[8]

The turmoil destabilizing the Middle East has raised renewed questions about the political future of the Kurdish Nation as a whole. Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections came at a critical moment in the history of the Kurds – not only in Iraq but also in the whole Middle East. Since 2003, the main Kurdish parties have put their divisions aside for the benefit of the Kurdish people, helping to provide the stability necessary to achieve the prosperity that is the envy of the rest of Iraq. The region has enjoyed autonomy within Iraq since the early 1990s, when an internationally-enforced no-fly zone prevented the forces of President Saddam Hussein from attacking it[9]. The political arena has since been dominated by two parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – which share power after having fought out their rivalries in a civil war during the 1990s[10] . But, the results showed the KDP in first place with 37.4% of the vote, which would give the party about a third of the total seats. Parliament is comprised of 111 seats, in addition to the 11 seats reserved for non-Kurdish minorities, which have traditionally been close to Barzani. The KDP’s main ally, Talabani’s PUK, slipped to third place with 16.6% of the vote. The Movement for Change came in second place with 24.7%, followed by the Kurdistan Islamic Union with 9.8 %, the Islamic Group with 6.1%, al-Haraka al-Islamiyya with 1.2% and 4.2% for the other parties.[11]

The vital characteristic of Kurds is that they are acting according to their ethnicity rather than their religion. But, the most important section of the elections is that a new parliament is poised to lead the oil-producing region further down the road to greater autonomy from Baghdad[12]. The creation of a pipeline from Kurdistan to Turkey could make the Kurdish government financially self-sufficient. “The strategic stakes are extraordinarily high,” said Ramzy Mardini at the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies and he continued “the 2013-2017 government in Arbil will be responsible for the most significant decisions for the Iraqi Kurds in a quarter century”[13]. Thus, we can observe that elections come in a transitional period for the wider region of the Middle East and are mostly concerning the field of energy, which could give more independence to the Kurds of the region.

 

Moreover, the Syrian crisis has created a potential domino effect for further conflicts to other countries, especially to its neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Lebanon. Spillover sectarian violence in Lebanon is remaining steady in the coming months. The Syrian regime will, in turn, try to improve its working relationship with the Kurdish factions in Syria, Iraq and Turkey to sabotage Turkey’s broader containment strategy with the Kurds14.  Sunni militant violence in Iraq remains at a relatively high level as the overall regional jihadist focus stays on the Syrian battlefield. In northern Iraq, Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government will advance construction on a pipeline and alternate pumping and metering station designed to circumvent Baghdad’s veto on Kurdish exports and investment deals with foreign firms15.

During the Syrian crisis, the most crucial player seems to be Iran. Iran’s power in the region and, consequently, its influence in Iraq are based on the ongoing situation in Syria. Iran’s support for the Syrian regime is one of the key elements safeguarding the position of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. This is happening for a very important reason. If the Assad regime falls, Iran will lose its influence in an “axis’’ which starts from Iraq and ends in Syria, with the presence of the Shiit Lebanese movement, Hezbollah, present there. While Syria’s influence in its neighbour remained limited, Iran developed a close relationship with Iraq’s Shiite political parties therefore the influence of both Syria and Iran is crucial not only for the external affairs of Iraq, but also for its internal issues.

To conclude, it is evident that the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq should mark an evolution in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship, not Washington’s disengagement. Without continued U.S. support, there is a real danger that Iraq may not succeed in using the opening provided by the surge to strengthen its stability and achieve its democratic aspirations.16

Fotios Stravoravdis.

 


[1] Gideon, Rose, “Iraq in Retrospect Gideon Rose”, Foreign Affairs, (18/03/ 2013) http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139065/gideon-rose/iraq-in-retrospect

[2] Parker, Ned, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State”, Foreign Affairs, (12/02/2012)

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137103/ned-parker/the-iraq-we-left-behind

[3] Gideon, Rose, “Iraq in Retrospect Gideon Rose”, Foreign Affairs, (18/03/ 2013) http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139065/gideon-rose/iraq-in-retrospect

[4] Parker, Ned, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State”, Foreign Affairs, (12/02/2012)

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137103/ned-parker/the-iraq-we-left-behind

[6] Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Iraq, (14/10/2013)

http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=7203

[8]UN news Centre, “Iraq: UN urges death penalty moratorium following execution of 42 people in two days”, (11/10/2013)

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/html/story.asp?NewsID=46246&Cr=iraq&Cr1=#.UmMAJfn7qYU

[9]Jaboori, Rafid, “Iraq’s Kurds focus on autonomy,  BBC News Middle East, (21/09/2013)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24181951

[10]Al-Akhbar English, “Iraq’s Kurds head to the polls for parliamentary elections”, (21/09/2013)

http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/17087

 

[11]Abbas, Mushreq, “ PUK falls to third place In Iraqi Kurdistan elections”, Al-Monitor, (21/09/2013)

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/iraq-elections-preliminary-results.html#ixzz2iCzVr86o

[12]Coles, Isabel, “Iraqi Kurds vote as oil-rich region seeks greater autonomy”, Reuters, (21/11/2013)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/21/us-iraq-kurds-election-idUSBRE98K02O20130921

[13] Coles, Isabel, “Iraqi Kurds vote as oil-rich region seeks greater autonomy”, Reuters, (21/11/2013)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/21/us-iraq-kurds-election-idUSBRE98K02O20130921

14Stratfor, “ Fourth Quarter Forecast 2013’’, (01/10/2013),

http://www.stratfor.com/sample/forecast/fourth-quarter-forecast-2013

15 Stratfor, “ Fourth Quarter Forecast 2013’’, (01/10/2013),

http://www.stratfor.com/sample/forecast/fourth-quarter-forecast-2013

16Sky, Emma, “Iraq, From Surge to Sovereignty Winding Down the War in Iraq”, Foreign Affairs, (April 2011) http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67481/emma-sky/iraq-from-surge-to-sovereignty

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