January 2, 2013

New Troubles, Old Rivalries Keep Iraq On The Edge

Photo: Sunni protesters in Iraq. Source: Associated Press/Hadi Mizban.

Iraq is once again on the edge. Relations between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq continue to deteriorate. Last month, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani personally visited Kirkuk, a contested and oil-rich city that could be the major battlefield in a future war between the two sides.

While talk of war has quieted down in the past week, it is inevitable as neither side is willing to sacrifice its own interests for the greater good of Iraq. The reality on the ground cannot be hidden any longer. Iraq as a unified country is done.

What is interesting is that Turkey is aligning itself with the Barzani government in its confrontation with Baghdad. It is a marriage of convenience, as explained by Prime Minister of KRG Nechirvan Barzani in an interview with Time magazine in December, saying:
Turkey needs something that it doesn’t have. We need certain things that we don’t have. This has been the proper understanding on both sides. And it doesn’t have anything to do with politics. It’s an economic matter.
The Turkish state is also a major ally of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Their nasty work in Syria could be a precursor to what they have prepared for Iraq. Turkish and Arab Gulf leaders, encouraged by the United States, are desperate to create Sunni-Shiite divisions in both countries in an effort to bring down Assad and Nouri al-Maliki, who has served as Iraq's Prime Minister since May 2006.

Many members of the "Free Syrian Army" came from Iraq, where they orchestrated car bombings and other terrorist acts to weaken the country and keep it in a state of perpetual chaos. Now, having improved their craft in the previously peaceful towns of Syria, this merry band of terrorists could be headed back to Iraq to wage a new Jihad for the benefit of their financiers in the Arab Gulf kingdoms.

Iraq is experiencing new turmoil, and the popular anger is being directed not just at the top but across sectarian lines. Thousands of Sunni protesters harbor anti-Shiite feelings because they are being told by their leaders that Sunnis are being treated like second class citizens under the current government and that al-Maliki is a dictator and a sectarian ruler. It is not true, from what I can tell, but these people don't care about the truth, they want to create chaos in the country. The truth is being sacrificed by the instigators of the protests to fulfill a greater agenda: the destruction of Iraq.

Prime Minister al-Maliki said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera that the protesters have voiced their demands and should end their activities. "Do not tell me it is a national issue, because it is clear that it is a rotten one, it has rotten slogans and is accompanied by rotten practices,"  al-Maliki said.

But it is unlikely that the protesters and their leaders will listen to al-Maliki. Also, this new uprising is no longer comprised of mainly dissatisfied Sunnis, as it was when it began. On Tuesday, January 1st, in a bold and brilliant political move, Iraq's Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr joined the anti-Maliki protests. It is now a popular movement for change.

"The Iraqi spring is coming," declared al-Sadr. He also said, "As long as the demonstrations are peaceful and don’t seek to dismantle Iraq ... we are with the protests, and Parliament should be with them, not against them. The demands of demonstrators are legitimate and popular, so they should be met."

This wise act by al-Sadr was done to diffuse Shiite-Sunni tensions and change the sectarian-driven political conversation. It poured cold water on the anti-Shiite rhetoric that has been used with criminal intent to fire up Sunni protesters and encourage them to do violence against the government.

In light of al-Sadr statements, Sunni leaders cannot rightfully claim that al-Maliki is a dictator who only represents the Shiite constituency since the most popular leader of the Shiite street has put his weight behind the protests. Neither sect is being represented well. The problems are bad management of financial resources, abuse of public trust, and prime ministerial corruption, not repression of minorities and sectarian rule.

Will these problems be fixed, or will Iraq experience an Arab Spring in the South, and a new war in the North?