Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Understanding Iraq

The corporate media, and for that matter U.S. politicians of all stripes, are fundamentally misunderstanding what is happening in Iraq. The collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and cities to the south along the Tigris is not essentially about the rise of ISIS (aka ISIL) as a powerful extremist force; it is fundamentally about the sectarian misrule of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his allies in political Shiism. Former U.S. diplomat Wayne White (oddly appearing here in an Iranian web magazine), has a sharp analysis. ISIS is successful because the largely Sunni population of Anbar and Nineveh provinces hates the government more than they fear the extremists; and because ISIS has allies of convenience in Baathist revanchists and other Sunni militias and vigilante forces. As White says:

Maliki’s refusal to capitalize on Sunni Arab assistance brokered by the US was a missed opportunity of vast importance. Back in 2007-08, most Sunni Arabs were profoundly war weary after several years of bruising combat with US forces. As a result, a community previously determined to resist US forces and a government dominated by Iraqi Shi’a and Kurds, reluctantly accepted new realities. In exchange for ending their resistance and helping to battle AQI, Sunni Arabs expected a fair share of Iraq’s political pie, more government employment, and an appropriate slice of the country’s revenues. This, however, was not to be.

Securing a freer hand to deal with Iraq’s Sunni Arabs more harshly appears to have been one reason Maliki and his Iraqi allies backed away from the immunity agreement needed to allow a limited US military presence to remain behind after the American withdrawal. Both the Bush and Obama administrations tried and failed to secure this. Then, within 48 hours of the departure of the last US troops in mid-December 2011, Maliki had an arrest warrant issued against Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab official, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq al-Hashemi, charging him with alleged involvement in “terrorism.” .. . .
The Kurdish army (peshmerga) has taken advantage of the chaos to seize control of the city of Kirkuk, disputed between Arabs and Kurds. The ISIS advance toward Baghdad is unlikely to get far -- despite the mass desertion in Mosul, the Iraqi army outnumbers the insurgency by an order of magnitude, has vast superiority in heavy weaponry, and has helicopters. Worryingly, however, Maliki is raising Shiite militias to join the battle, which will only intensify the sectarian character of the conflict. The peshmerga, a formidable and disciplined force, also do not like ISIS and will probably help succor the Maliki government if it comes to that, although for now they are taking care of Kurdistan. There is also concern, however, that Iran will enter the fray and their are reports that Revolutionary Guards have already gone to Iraq.

All of this creates a likelihood that the relatively few Sunni Arabs in the Iraqi army and other security services may defect, and that full-scale civil war will erupt, perhaps drawing in the Sunni Gulf monarchies to confront Iran. Should the U.S., at this stage, intervene to rescue Maliki and the Shiite government of Iraq? Doesn't seem like it to me, but whatever the U.S. does, the situation is very dangerous. Oh yeah -- fill up your tank, gasoline is about to get  lot more expensive.

Update: Emirates News has a much more detailed factual report  than you'll get from U.S. media. Apparently ISIS has managed to get a couple of captured helicopters into the air, which definitely suggests defection by Iraqi army personnel. They also see it as going without saying that this is essentially a sectarian civil war. 

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