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

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground 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.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid