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The Gathering Storm Over Iraq
By Abbas J. Ali

Recent news from Iraq has been alarming, if not frightening. The country is about to go through another catastrophe much deeper and detrimental to the future of the country and the well-being of its people than the U.S. inflicted calamity of 1991 and its devastating military invasion in 2003.

Indeed, current events demonstrate that Iraq's political entity, culture, and future is being targeted by vicious geopolitical forces. These forces are determined to finish what they failed to accomplish in 2003. After facing setbacks to effectively achieving their goal of removing the regime in Syria, Iraq, in its current state of instability, is seen as an easy target for quick victory.

From Washington to Paris and from Ankara to Doha, there is a feeling that incapacitating the Iraqi government and fragmenting the country will be instrumental in energizing and encouraging forces that seek to unseat the Syrian regime and uproot its defiance to Israel - the Western scheme for the Arab nation.

These geopolitical forces may have different strategic aims and priorities in Iraq. Nevertheless, all understand that terrorism is a potent force that can be used to crumble Iraqi institutions. These forces, too, in their foreign ventures, do not undertake any actions without receiving a nod from Washington. Washington, in turn, since the Reagan administration, has been driven by the neoconservative view that Iraq must be kept in perpetual chaos or in a state of fragmentation.

Despite all talk by neoconservatives, be they Democrats or Republicans, about liberating Iraq, Iraq has been regarded as the regional antagonist. The neoconservative aim was and still is smashing Iraq and fragmenting it. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, during his visit to Iraq after the invasion in 2003, was surprised that American senior officers that he met referred to Iraqis as the enemy. This view has not been altered despite the change in the administration. Indeed, Vice President Biden is not an apologist in his persistent call to fragment Iraq.

The strategy to break down Iraq and eradicate its culture, involves various elements: supporting separatist warlords in the northern part, easing the movement of terrorists into Iraq, inducing tribesmen in the western part of the country to carry out an armed rebellion, encouraging senior members of the parliament to voice sympathy to the cause of anti-government forces, and inspiring various political groups that are part of the government to ridicule the head of the government.

Warlords in the northern city of Irbil have been vocal not only in asserting their intention to cede from Iraq but also in confronting and challenging the Iraqi army, exporting oil through Turkey without the consent of the central government and initiating agreements with foreign companies and countries that are a menace to the national interest of Iraq.

In an interview with the Saudi newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat (March 19) , the head of the regional government in Irbil, Nejerfan Barzani, strongly criticized the Iraqi Prime Minister for accusing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of supporting violence in his country. These separatists are overtly supported by Washington and Turkey and have close working relationships with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Reuters (January 7, 2014) reported that Washington is reluctant to empower the Iraqi government and support the country in its war against Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Likewise, the Agence France-Presse (AFP, Feb. 5) reported that the US Congress criticized the Iraqi government for having close relations with neighboring Iran and, in fact, blamed the government policies for fuelling al Qaeda suicide bombings. This, along with the reluctance to supply Iraq with adequate weapons and jet fighters eleven years after the invasion, has intentionally weakened the country's ability to fight terrorism and build sound defense institutions. Likewise, instead of supporting the government in its security matters, Washington has displayed negative attitude toward its policies.

In his testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing (Feb. 5), Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk, criticized the government of Iraq for accusing a number of bodyguards to then-Minister of Finance, Rafa al-Issawi, in late December 2012, of being terrorists. He stated that "Rafa al-Issawi has been a close partner of the United States, and we believe his official status and standing should be restored as soon as possible." While some Iraqi experts consider this a blatant interference in Iraqi affairs, others treat it as an attempt to incite more terrorism.

Though al Qaeda fighters have in recent weeks overrun several towns, Washington has neither provided Iraq with the needed weapons to defeat terrorism nor ordered its allies in the region to stop the flow of terrorists into Iraq. Reuters ( March 20) reported that the Iraqi military and security forces fighting al Qaeda "are running low on tank shells, lack aerial cover,[and] are short of armoured vehicles." In recent weeks, al Qaeda fighters have mounted assaults on cities east, west, and north of Baghdad; literally circling the capital from three directions. These fighters are equipped with heavy weaponry and anti-aircrafts guns. Their advances closer to the capital constitute a threat to the unity of Iraq and an encouragement to separatists and other Iraqi political and tribal groups loyal to foreign entities to dictate their conditions to the central government.

Furthermore, Washington and its allies have offered support, including moral and financial, to tribesmen who are actively involved in challenging the central government. More importantly, political groups, especially those that participate in the government, including religious parties that have traditionally allied with the Prime Minister and his party, have openly criticized the government and paralyzed its activities. Indeed, the central government has been transformed into an incoherent circus where each member of the cabinet disregards government programs and plans and dances to his/her own tune.

The Prime Minister, in his quest to run for a third term, has found himself compromising on patriotic priorities and giving promises to rival political groups to buy their loyalty. Washington and its allies have taken advantage of his willingness to compromise and have managed to force their conditions on him. Washington, for example, pressed him to reverse a contract for buying advance weapons from Russia essential for providing security and safety for Iraqi citizens. But he gets no promise of fixed dates for the weapons that he contracted with Washington. The New York Times (Feb. 5) reported that the Iraqi government is buying 24 Apaches from the US, but delivery might take as long as three years. Furthermore, the first of the F-16 fighters that Iraq bought from Washington a couple years ago might be delivered even later than originally agreed on.

Likewise, when the Prime Minister announced that he would recapture the city of Falluja from al Qaeda, Washington ordered him to abandon his plan and instead asked him to accept its own scheme for confronting the challenges in the city. The Times reported (Feb. 5) that Brett McGurk, the State Department's top official on Iraq, informed Congress that American military officers, including General Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the United States Central Command, met in Baghdad with Iraqi officers and told them not to mount a military assault on Falluja. Rather, the American military's plan was to leave the matter to tribes to take a lead and "secure [the city] one neighbourhood at a time." The Prime Minister agreed with Washington knowing in advance that it would not work. Immediately after the Prime Minister's consent to the American plan, The Times reported that al Qaeda had taken three villages in the province of Salahuddin, and was aggressively continuing its attacks on Baghdad.

Iraqi is a victim of a geopolitical game. Long before the invasion of 2003, Washington and its regional allies were adamant about maintaining chaos in Iraq. Their firm determination to break down the country will certainly lead to untold devastation, endangering the safety of Iraqis and increasing the bloodshed and suffering of innocent people. There is little chance that Iraq in the foreseeable future will regain its health and be a unified and democratic country. This will only be possible if the Iraqi people take the initiative and remove from power all groups, utilizing a democratic process, that either cooperated with the invading forces and or benefited from the occupation. The alternative is a broken country and continuing bloodshed.

Abbas J. Ali is Professor and director, School of International management, Eberly College of Business and IT, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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