Thursday, December 4, 2014

Iraq takes more steps in the right direction

After less than three months and a lot of bad policies to undo the new Iraqi premier is already having some tangible successes in reaching out to the hitherto marginalized Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds of Iraq. These are all very promising steps in the right direction.

The very violent jolt Daesh gave an already divided and volatile Iraqi state is slowly serving to actually strengthen and bring it back together. Those fissures which long existed in the society were exacerbated by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regressive sectarian policies which benefited no one in Iraq (not even the community from which he came, the Shia Iraqis) and are now being redressed in light of the fundamental threat posed by Daesh to the Iraqi state and society. And we’re finally seeing some successes.

Granted these successes do come after a multitude of failures. But at the same time the central government has clearly recognized that there will be no Iraq unless it reforms substantially and reaches out to its minorities, primarily of course the Sunni Kurds and the Sunni Arabs. And it is doing that. Just over the last week we’ve been hearing some promising news.

First of all the rift which existed between Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomous authorities in Erbil over who has the right to export oil has essentially been resolved. That rift and those tensions existed well before Daesh marched into northern Iraq last June. Kirkuk was then home to some Iraqi Army units who were essentially there to keep the regional Kurdish government in check. As with the army forces around Mosul they immediately fled south since they had no coherent defense order nor strategy. The fighting was left to the Peshmerga who successfully secured the city of Kirkuk. A city which of course is immensely important to Kurdish nationalist and is also home to large amounts of Iraq’s oil resources. So much changed in such a short space of time.

Iraq and Kurdistan Flags

Iraq and Kurdistan Flags

The Iraqi Kurdish premier Massoud Barzani has even proposed that Iraqi Kurdistan have a referendum on Kurdish independence. Something which seems to have been put on hold since Maliki stepped down from power in September and was replaced by the present Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi who has sought to undo his predecessors divisive policies which left the state divided and helpless and almost to the mercy of a group who has none.

So Baghdad and Erbil are now working out their oil policies in a more respectful bilateral fashion. Something which will likely see to Kurdish nationalist aspirations at least postponed for now.

And speaking of divisive policies, who can forget the manner in which Mr. Maliki essentially snubbed the Sunni tribes, when it came to broad integration into the federal security forces, who formed the backbone of the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province during the surge period of the Iraq War?

Those Sunni tribes proved decisive when it came to taking the fight to the al-Qaeda in Iraq group from which Islamic State grew years later. They were left poorly equipped and poorly armed. And we’ve had to watch in recent months as they were left to the mercy of that group which has no mercy, Daesh who have slaughtered members of the Albu Nimr tribe.

Abadi has a lot to rectify. In Erbil his government is talking about everything from oil exports which are of importance to Iraq’s economy to arms shipments to the Kurds. In Anbar he has to reinvigorate faith in the Sunnis who we must remember were pushed aside and knifed in the back by Maliki after they done their part in quashing the al-Qaeda threat. Indeed the instability posed by Maliki’s sectarian and ill-governance generated genuine grievances which bred political instability which Daesh was able exploit to its advantage.

But even in Anbar there is a flicker of hope. Recently the Iraqi government and the United States in their attempts to reinvigorate the Awakening movements of the Iraq War years have trained about 2,000 Sunni fighters as part of the formation of what is being referred to as a “bridging entity”. In other words the extending of an arm to those betrayed tribes and reassurances that if they begin to rise up they won’t be mercilessly butchered by the Islamic State forces in their midst like their Albu Nimr kinsmen were.

An anonymous U.S. State Department official was recently quoted as saying that this is part of a policy initiated by Abadi who “is committed ultimately to bringing the Sunnis into the mainstream.”

So while one wouldn’t be overly optimistic about Iraq’s future for the meantime one cannot ignore the gradually shifting trend which has been demonstrated by these two stories. Daesh’s onslaught has inadvertently brought disparate sectors of Iraqi society together to the degree that they recognize the salient and fundamental importance of working together. In the post-June 2014 Iraq the hitherto lengthy Baghdad-Erbil dispute has been resolved and the Sunni Arabs are finding that the central government is setting about consigning into the past the regressive sectarian policies initiated by Mr. Maliki. All positive signs and signs which remind us that the defeat of the Daesh forces in Iraq has an important political dimension to it in addition to a military one.

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