Focus on rebuilding a strong Iraqi state

Will President Barack Obama keep the promises he made during his election campaign? It may be too early to say, but some observers think he already went back on one promise in the case of Iraq. His promise to pull out early was, under pressure from the US army, changed. His decision now is to keep a bigger force in Iraq and for a longer time.

The decision was not a surprise to the anti-occupation elements in Iraq. They have always argued that the two main reasons for the occupation in the first place were oil and the security of Israel. It is impossible for the US to leave Iraq without securing these two objectives.

In terms of oil, the US has had some success, and others are in the pipeline, including the 50/50 agreements signed with the central and Kurdish federal governments. Supply routes, however, are not yet fully secure, and the unstable domestic Iraqi situation will not yet allow a guaranteed flow of oil.

The second objective is far from being achieved. True, Iraq’s military capabilities and resources were either destroyed or squandered, but the subsequent chaos led to the emergence of two new challenges: Iranian power, which in the absence of an Iraqi counterbalance is left unchallenged in the region; and the emergence of fundamentalist Islamic resistance in Iraq following the Hizballah model. Indeed, Iraq, because of this senseless American adventure, has been turned into a haven for foreign fanatics.

But Iran remains the key. Any sensible observer, whether in the US or Israel, must see that the situation in Iraq is still fragile and volatile. Leaving Iraq without solving the problem of the Iranian infiltration–one might better say domination–of Iraqi politics would be a strategic and catastrophic mistake from US or Israeli perspectives.

Both Iraqis and Iranians seem very keen, each for their own reasons, to see US forces leave as soon as possible. The Iraqis think they can deal with their own problems without the patronage of the US. The Iranians are very happy with the mess created by the US invasion of Iraq that made them the second regional power in the Middle East after Israel and the only one in the Gulf.

That position will be very much enhanced if Obama keeps his promise to pursue a negotiated settlement with Iran. Most nationalist Iraqis fear that US-Iranian negotiations will concern the future of Iraq. Tehran, which has denied any interference in domestic Iraqi affairs, announced few days ago that it is ready to help the US in Iraq and Afghanistan if the US turns a blind eye to its atomic energy program, in itself an indirect admission of its involvement and influence in Iraq. The other danger of withdrawing troops without building a strong Iraqi government and a viable and secure Iraqi state is not only that it could spell the end of Iraqi independence, but that it could cause the collapse of security in the whole Gulf region, as Iranian designs become clearer.

I believe the toughest promise Obama needs to keep is to rebuild or allow the re-establishment of a strong Iraqi state. In order to do so, the new US administration needs to address the many injustices Iraq has suffered recently, including the two devastating wars waged against it by the US, the inhuman sanctions that were imposed on it for more than a decade, the unjust demarcation of its borders, the heavy and unfair compensations and reparations it was made to pay and the strengthening and encouragement of decentralized elements to defy the central authority.

In order to create a regional counterbalance to Iran’s power, a strong Iraqi state is a necessity. It is evident that neither Israel nor Iraq’s southern or eastern neighbors let alone the two dominant Kurdish parties in Iraqi Kurdistan want to see this happen. But such an eventuality is the only reasonable course of action for the US in the region. There are still some elements in the US who want to incite Iraq and the Gulf countries against Iran, in the hope of controlling Tehran through a series of regional wars. There are others who favor the Israeli plan to wage an air offensive against Iran. But after the catastrophic experiment in Iraq, such actions will only cause greater regional upheaval and Israel and the US will be the only losers.