<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
Ten years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq continues to suffer from near-constant sectarian violence, which remains one of the perennial threats to its state and society. Much of the recent turmoil seems to be driven by political calculations that aim to maximize electoral and sectarian gains at the expense of national unity. Regional conflicts and the continuing presence of al-Qaeda- affiliated organizations has made the situation even more difficult.
Fears of sectarian forces tearing apart the state are everpresent in the Iraqi media, many of whom see the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as laying the foundations of a failed state. In an article for the Iraqi daily Azzaman, Fatih Abdulsalam is forthright: “Ten years after the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation, Iraq has disappeared as a state with central authority.... The conditions in Iraq ten years after the invasion do not look bright. There are more signs of division rather than unity, more signs of separation rather than coming together in regard to almost everything in the country. The notion of citizenship has been dealt a heavy blow in Iraq. The path pursued since the U.S. invasion is not towards a unified country with equal rights and duties to everyone regardless of geography, religions, sects and ethnic belonging. Iraq is moving towards a disparate entity of several states: provincial states or regional states.”
Lebanon’s The Daily Star’s Prashant Rao also blames the U.S. invasion for the current state of affairs in the country, including the lack of basic services and goods as well as the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the Iraqi state: “The US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein aimed to enshrine a liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East but instead unleashed sectarian violence and endless political disputes....From territorial disputes in the north to questions over the apportioning of the country's vast energy revenues, a number of high-level problems remain unresolved, while Iraqis still grapple with daily struggles ranging from poor provision of basic services to high levels of unemployment....Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's erstwhile government partners, meanwhile, have charged him with consolidating power over the bureaucracy and security forces, and little in the way of landmark legislation has been passed in recent years.”
Fears of a worsening crisis are rampant in the media, where many are concerned that the disintegration of the country might soon become irreversable: “Iraqi leaders say that Iraq is disintegrating as a country under the pressure of a mounting political, social and economic crisis.They add that 10 years after the US invasion and occupation the conflict between the three main communities — Shiite, Sunni and Kurd — is deepening to a point just short of civil war....Iraq has been violent and unstable for so long that Iraqis and foreigners alike have become desensitised to omens suggesting that, bad as the situation has been, it may be about to get a great deal worse.And everyone is a loser in Iraq, including those in power, because the country is disintegrating and slipping deeper into an abyss without any hope for rescue.”
Warnings of an impending breakdown have also come from Kurdish politicians, who, although they stand to gain from a further decentralization of power away from Baghdad, have also been instrumental in keeping Iraq PM Nouri Al Maliki in power. This has led the Deputy Chairman of Kurdish National Union Party Barham Saleh to warn the Maliki government that a course correction is needed, otherwise “‘a big crisis with Baghdad is present, which is not the Kurdish problem only.’ In a press conference, on the annual forum, held today here, he added that ‘after ten years of the downfall of the previous regime, we have great problems that we should not be kept silent’. He added that ‘the continuation of this situation and negligence of other Iraqi components, matters are unacceptable.’”
Sectarianism has also hit smaller communities in Iraq, including the Christians. According to Azzaman’s Wail Matti, the newly installed Patriarch of Baghdad Louis Rafael, in a recent declaration stated that “More than 1,000 Iraqi Christians, all civilians, have been killed since the 2003-U.S. invasion of Iraq.... Patriarch Louis Rafael, who was officially nominated in Baghdad on Wednesday, said attacks on his community have driven hundreds of thousands of his followers to flee the country and made tens thousands others to seriously consider leaving.”
For many, much of the sectarian strife in the country is owed to the continuing interference by Iran as well as the presence of al-Qaeda affiliates in the country. In an op-ed for the Kuwait Times, Shmalan Al-Essa calls on other Arab countries to take a proactive role in uncoupling Iraq from Iran, thus securing stability in the country and the region: “All Arabs, and the Gulf region in particular, must help Iraq and not let it become an easy prey for Iranian influence. We must encourage the Iraqi government to unite Iraqis and confirm the unity of Iraqi soil, and this requires the contribution of all gulf countries in rebuilding Iraq, not just by granting money to the corrupt Iraqi politicians , but by coming up with productive projects and encouraging Arab investments in Iraq. Iraq is a rich country given its natural resources and manpower.”
The extent of the al-Qaeda influence in the country and the importane of what is going on in the region was made evident a few days ago when several dozen Syrian soldiers were killed inside Iraq by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants. The Saudi Gazette editorial expressed its misgivings about the implications of the incident: “The first problem is that the events that led up to the Syrian soldiers arriving on Iraqi soil appear to give substance to rising concerns that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and other ministers within his ‘Government of National Unity’ are giving active support to the Assad regime at the prompting of Tehran....The second cause for concern is that the ambush was mounted by the Iraqi Al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which published pictures and details of the action on a web site and gloried in the annihilation of the convoy.”
In the midst of the growing sectarianism, many have been quick to point the finger at Maliki. There are others, however, who, while acknowledging the sectarian nature of the violence, suggest that Maliki’s actions have less to do with sectarianism than with political survival. Al Arabiya’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, for example, argues that Maliki’s main target are not the Sunnis, but rather his rivals from within his Shia community: “I disagree with those who accuse Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, of sectarianism. Rather, he is guilty of political opportunism. He currently uses the Sunni-Shiite dispute for the sole aim of remaining in power. With regards to his aims concerning his political rivals, Maliki’s intentions are becoming clearer. I also disagree with those who think he is pursuing and isolating Sunni leaders, despite his public war against the Sunni leadership, his true aim is to eliminate the Shiite leadership.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.