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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid