Home > Iraq > … And the War in Iraq Continues

… And the War in Iraq Continues

I’m not going to pretend to know enough about the prospects for long-term peace or successful government transition in Iraq to speculate, but I will pretend to know enough to reiterate my point from last week that this war is not over, not for us Americans, and certainly not for the Iraqis.  Keep in mind our 50,000 troops in Iraq still being called on to do combat operations when the need arises the next time someone starts talking about how glad they are that we’re out of Iraq at last.  Lest you think I’m just spouting the rhetoric of someone else when I keep reiterating that we are still involved in combat, check out the link below from BBC that motivated me to write this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11192265

No, it’s not a major campaign to retake Baghdad or Fallujah, but it’s not the U.S. – Canada border either.

Since I”m already talking about Iraq and can always use a recap of what’s going on over there politically since it’s such a cluster, here is a recap, slightly more elaborate than the one from last week, of the political situation in Iraq as I understand it.

Iraq’s parliamentary elections were held on March 7th, resulting in a hung government where no one player or party did well enough to form a government on their own.

Two days shy of a half year later, the country is still governed by the same interim government because none of the four major political factions who saw significant and weighty success on March 7th have been able to come together to form a coalition government.

Iraq’s is a 325 member parliament, so a majority consists of 163 votes.

The Iraqiya party, largely Sunni supported and winners of 91 seats in the election, favor former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to head the government.

Their closest competitors are the State of Law Coalition, a largely Shiite coalition (although the more secular of the Shiite coalitions).  They favor the current interim Prime Minister and the country’s incumbent PM, Nuri al-Maliki of the Dawa party, as the new head of government. They also managed to pull in 89 seats in the March elections, falling just two behind Iraqiya and creating enough drama about it that a recount of the vote occurred.  Talks of negotiations between the two large parties have been whispered about all summer, but, as I said, 6 months later there still remains no coalition.  From what I can tell, the PM spot is the most contentious thing here.  Allawi believes it should be his since his party won the most votes while Maliki refuses to back off after running such a close race and winning so many seats, not to mention still holding many of the powers of the office as the incumbent.  So far his party is supporting him in his stance, although many are speculating about how long that will last.

Into this picture, throw the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA or INA).  The NIA, a largely fundamentalist Shiite party, won 70 seats on March 7th.  They are thought to have close ties to Iran, given their Shiite constituency, and are another significant piece of this puzzle.  One of this coalition’s largest blocs, that loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr of Mahdi Army (al-Sadr’s paramilitary force which was, at one time, one of the U.S.’s most significant threats in the country) fame, absolutely refuses to have anything to do with the State of Law Coalition above, so long as they insist on Nuri al-Maliki as the Prime Minister.  In 2008, Maliki used the Iraqi Army to attack and severely maim Sadr‘s Mahdi Army, with, of course, substantial help from U.S. forces.  Al-Sadr (not a huge fan of the U.S., surprisingly enough) isn’t quite willing to let that go yet.  Also, the Shiite-Sunni divide plays a significant role in limiting the extent of their relationship with Allawi‘s largely Sunni Iraqiya.

Now, if you’re not already completely confused, through the Kurds into the picture.  Their Kurdistan Alliance won 44 seats in the March elections.  These people have been divided by the arbitrary lines of colonization since the formation of the modern Middle East as we know it.   In addition to Iraq, they can be found in Turkey, Iran and Syria, as well as in a number of other countries.  Kurdish Iraqis have been fighting for their independence from Iraq for generations, and are the same people whom Saddam Hussein was accused (rightly so, from what little I know) of gassing in the early 90’s.  Today, they are in a political battle for control of one of the country’s largest, oil-rich cities, Kirkuk, and  have enjoyed a significant degree of autonomy since the ratification of the Iraqi Constitution in 2008.  They also have their own dynamics with the other major political players in the country that you could write a whole book, scratch that, a series of books, on.  To put it simply, however, they are potentially an extremely important player in any sort of coalition that could come into being.  Immediately after the elections, they were being commonly referred to as ‘kingmakers,’ although I’m seeing that term used in reference to the NIA and al-Sadr more frequently now.

On top of all of this, the average Iraqi, as I mentioned last week, has limited access to potable water or electricity, even today.  I read a quarterly report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction while working on the Hill this summer — actually only about a month ago as I think back — and the numbers and statistics they provided were heart wrenching.  Try to find it online if you can.  This was supported by an article I read earlier today which stated that although security has been greatly improved in the past few years, the failure to fulfill the basic needs of the citizenry is leading to a growing number of refugees fleeing the country each day.  Can’t recall where I read this at the moment, but if I find it I’ll put it up as soon as possible as it was a very illuminating piece which did a lot to put a human face to what we can easily see as a distant and almost non-existent problem.

Couple all of these problems with the corruption allegations that face the country and the need to look at Constitutional reforms to address the outstanding Kurdish issues, and you have a very tense, very complicated series of problems in Iraq today.

Thanks for checking in guys.  Hope it was informative.  Look for more soon, but until then, pax.

– T

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