News / Middle East

    Column: Maliki’s Last Chance to Save Iraq

    FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2011, file photo, Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq
    FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2011, file photo, Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq
    Saddam Hussein must be laughing in his grave.
     
    President George W. Bush celebrated Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 as the liberation of Iraqis from decades of dictatorial rule and costly warfare against Iraq’s neighbors.

    But the democratically elected government that followed has failed to stabilize the country and opened the door to the expansion of a safe haven for Islamist militants so extreme that even al-Qaeda has rejected them.

    This week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, unfurling the black flag of jihad over the corpses of Iraqi security forces and sending half a million residents fleeing in terror.

    For months now, ISIS has withstood Baghdad’s efforts to recapture Fallujah, scene of so much American bloodletting a decade ago.

    Reinforced with newly captured American Humvees and weapons from Mosul, ISIS has also taken Baiji, site of a major oil refinery, and is advancing toward the outskirts of Baghdad.
     
    The success of ISIS has much to do with the collapse of government authority in Syria as the civil war there continues into its fourth year.

    The long border between Syria and Iraq is essentially open to the movement of fighters between the two countries. With Bashar al-Assad consolidating control over part of Syria, ISIS may have decided that Iraq is an easier target.
     
    But the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also bears responsibility for alienating so much of Iraq’s Sunni population, which dominated the country for centuries.

    No inclusive government

    Despite “winning” parliamentary elections in April to give him a potential third term in office, Maliki has yet to form an inclusive government with Sunni buy-in or resolve differences over oil exports with the Kurds.

    With his country falling apart around him, this is more than a wakeup call; this is probably Maliki’s last chance to overcome his sectarian Shiite roots and work with other ethnic and religious factions to preserve an even nominally united Iraq.
     
    Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written that “the potential silver lining to the crisis is that it could spur Iraqi factions to refocus on national stability.”

    Knights also notes that the United States “is still uniquely positioned to be an honest broker in Iraq” using its leverage as a trainer and arms provider to push Maliki toward compromise.
     
    But the fact remains that while the US can rush ammunition to defend Baghdad, U.S. troops are not going to return to fight Maliki’s battles for him. Unfortunately, rather than reach out to Sunni moderates,

    Maliki has increasingly relied on Iran-backed Shiite militias that have committed atrocities against Sunnis.

    Knights told VOA that he fears these militias will start “cleansing” remaining Sunnis from Baghdad in a reprise of 2005-2006 sectarian blood-letting.

    “We’re back to 2005 when we just had elections but we had no security,” he said.
     
    Knights described the panicked withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Mosul and Baiji as “a morale collapse of epic proportions” that reflects the exhaustion of troops who have been fighting a counterinsurgency for over a decade and the inexperience of others who had been doing checkpoint duty in southern Iraq and now have been rushed to the northern front.
     
    “You’ve got the guys who burned out who were used constantly in the worst places and the units that never did anything and now must do everything,” Knights said.
     
    Knights predicts that Baghdad and the south will hold but that Iraq will be increasingly divided into Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurdish regions.

    Options proposed

    Rather than try to recapture lost territory, Maliki may have to try to negotiate with tribal and old Baathist powerbrokers and accept a looser federal structure that permits substantial Sunni autonomy.
     
    However it turns out, there will be likely be new threats emanating from ISIS-held Iraq that menace Jordan, an important US ally, and potentially Europe and the United States.

    An Iraqi haven for this group will also make it much harder to bring about a cease-fire in Syria’s horrible war.
     
    George W. Bush and his enablers – Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Don Rumsfeld and Richard Perle among them – sold the Iraq war to the American people as part of the “war on terrorism,” conveniently blurring the fact that Saddam was not colluding with al-Qaeda but actually fighting it.

    It would be beyond a tragic irony if Iraq now becomes a refuge for a group even more hateful bent on establishing a “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Ray J from: Asia
    June 12, 2014 3:23 AM
    The author is either ignorant or assumes ignorance on the part of her readers - or both. There is no irony in the fact that chaos has followed upon the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. It is precisely what was to be expected.

    by: Pamela curr from: Melbourne
    June 11, 2014 7:05 PM
    What about the Iraqi people? We made their country into a wartime playground, destroyed their infrastructure and now as those we installed have failed- we stand back. When the people flee for their survival- will we open our arms? Not bloody likely. Australia will lock them up in hell camps in PNG and Nauru until they go mad. And what will the rest of the west do?

    by: Max D from: Latin America
    June 11, 2014 3:33 PM
    I'm pleasantly surprised...not by the ISIS, but by the even-handed tone of this article by VOA. Hopefully, a more competent leader will be found for Iraq soon, as Al-Maliki has not only antagonised the U.S., but is now obviously failing in the essential-to-his-occupation task of ensuring security and governmental control in Iraq.

    by: peter42y from: portugal
    June 11, 2014 3:20 PM
    Maybe Iraq is an artificial state that should be divided in 3 diferent countries . more stable . A Kurdistan.., a Sunite Iraq and a Shiite Iraq.
    American incursion in the region was a complete cathastrofe. It was suposed to bring democracy and peace but democracy only brought war.
    A democratic Iraq is an Iraq divided in 3 smaller countries.

    by: Safari from: Tanzania
    June 11, 2014 3:16 PM
    I think it is the right moment that America and it allies has to rethink about their foreign policies.look at Iraq,Libya,Syria and other countries.plsease stop supporting terrorist by the idea of overthrowing dictators.This has to be a lessons to the american and weatern countries.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora