News / Middle East

Column: Iraq's 'Second' Most Important Elections

FILE - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
FILE - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq is holding parliamentary elections next week but will Americans care?

Even inside the Beltway, the U.S. appears to have lost much of its interest in a country where more than 4,000 Americans died and thousands were wounded.

Only a few dozen people showed up earlier this week to hear former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad discuss the likely outcome of the April 30 vote. Khalilzad, speaking at Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, said the elections would be Iraq’s second most important since 2005, two years after the U.S. invaded and toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Khalilzad predicted, however, that the results would be inconclusive, that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law party would get a plurality of seats in parliament but not a majority, and that Maliki — who has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies since he came to power with U.S. and Iranian backing in 2006 — would continue as a caretaker during prolonged negotiations to form a new cabinet.

If those predictions are fulfilled, that is likely to lead to more instability at a time when Iraq increasingly looks like it is coming unglued.

In an interview Wednesday, Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Lukman Faily, said there are two main reasons for the current crisis.

One is the fact that all U.S. combat troops withdrew at the end of 2011 (at the insistence of the Iraqi government) leaving Iraq not yet prepared to deal with domestic violence. The other reason, he said, is the spillover from Syria which has deepened religious and ethnic divisions throughout the Middle East.

Extremist Sunni elements close to al-Qaeda have taken control of much of Iraq’s Anbar province bordering a Sunni section of Syria. Sunni suicide bombers are also striking Shiite targets with hideous regularity: nearly 8,000 Iraqi civilians died last year in sectarian violence and more than 2,500 just since January. Meanwhile, Iraqi Shiite militiamen are going to Syria to fight on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces while Iraqi Sunnis support the Syrian opposition.

In Iraq’s northern Kurdish region — the most stable part of the country — politicians have failed to conclude an agreement with Baghdad on oil revenues and exports through Turkey and there are increasing noises about a “confederation” — one step shy of independence.

Many commentators fault Maliki for a paranoid style of governance that has excluded rival politicians. Maliki ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, the day after the last U.S. combat forces left, and also purged the Sunni governor of the Central Bank. Iraqi government forces trying to stem the unrest in Anbar have made it worse by killing or arresting popular sheikhs who previously joined with U.S. forces to defeat al-Qaeda during the surge of 2007-2008.

On the other hand, Sunnis are responsible for much of the mayhem in the country and paranoids often have real as well as imagined enemies. Maliki, who is said to rely increasingly on Shiite militias to eliminate his rivals, may have little choice if he is to avoid alienating his own Shiite base.

Next week’s elections will give him an opportunity to ease some of the divisions in the country or to intensify them.

Faily, a Shiite Kurd who hails from Maliki’s Dawa party, says Iraqis are “tenacious” in working toward democracy and far more patient than Americans, whose historical memory has always been rather limited. Iraq’s ample reserves of oil and gas “can provide a strong incentive for gelling the society and gelling the parts of Iraq together because of the need for each other,” Faily said. Unlike Syria, which has limited oil supplies, in Iraq “there is enough oil for everybody to be prosperous.”

Iraq also values its continuing if more modest relationship with the United States, Faily said. The U.S. is supplying military training and equipment, including Apache helicopters that will allow the Baghdad government to get a better handle on the Anbar crisis and to patrol Iraq’s borders. Noting that a strategic framework agreement between the two countries is open-ended, the ambassador said Iraq also looks to Washington for civilian expertise in education and health care and appreciates U.S. efforts to mediate between the central government in Baghdad, Anbar sheikhs and the Kurds.

Iran is also influential in Iraq but Faily said the U.S. role should not be minimized. He said his challenge is to deepen that relationship at a time when Americans are no longer fighting and dying in Iraq.

“Senators no longer need to go to Iraq,” he acknowledged. “There are no longer your boys there.”

So Faily is making the rounds of Washington think tanks, giving interviews, posting frequently on Twitter (@failylukman) and even took part in this week’s Boston Marathon.

“My participation in the marathon is a clear sign that we would like to strengthen people to people relationships, rather than just depend on Maliki-[George W.] Bush relationship which was the case before,” Faily said. “Is it frustrating? It is challenging for me personally. There is no easy ride.”

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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: MUSTAFA from: INDIA
April 24, 2014 10:55 PM
Security and peace is very important for success of Maliki & Co. They should catch killers of innocent peoples and give them heavey punishment in front of public. I fell common Iraqi feel insecure, and this is the duty of Central Govt to give them peace,security,education and good business climate so they can pass good life. Already Iraqi suffered a lot after departure of Saddam, now this is up to Maliki to give them fresh air as soon as possible.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid