Last Chance For Iraq?

By request, a short view this morning on the implications of Nouri Maliki’s decision to stand down as Iraqi Prime Minister yesterday in favour of his principle opponent, Haida al-Abadi.

Like the US and others, whilst I welcome Nouri Malik’s departure from Iraq’s highest office and live in hope that his successor, Haida al-Abadi will reverse policies that over the past eight years have clearly been designed to alienate Sunnis and Kurds in the Iraqi parliament; it is with a degree of sadness that I am left to view that the announced change in Iraq’s leadership does little more than buy a little more time for Iraq to remain as one nation.

Iraq has throughout its existence rarely been at peace with itself and in my view the change in leadership yesterday changes little. Iraqi politics have for the past eight years been divisive just as they have also been corrupt. A new leader is of course welcome just as is the thought that parliament itself may now be given a better chance to work on behalf of all Iraq’s people. But I find it hard to believe that the standing down of Maliki in favour of a moderate is likely to halt the momentum and determination of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fanatics who are unlikely to be deterred by yesterday’s leadership announcements in Bagdad.

ISIS should perhaps no longer to be regarded as merely being a terrorist organisation but as a conquering army. My own view remains that that whatever opposition, support, obstacles or blocks are placed in the way of ISIS by the US and its allies, and perhaps even with the active support of Iran that as a terrorist organisation we should not imagine that even using military might that defeating ISIS might be possible. Remember those who said three years ago that the Syrian regime of Assad would probably fall tomorrow. Remember those that thought Egypt had finally broken through a route to democracy along with those in Libya and elsewhere. Terrorism is never easy to defeat but when it is spread across such a vast area, it is no easy match to beat. Of course it is right to continue to support and lend a hand to any government that genuinely believes in freedom, but we should not kid ourselves into believing that we can turn back the many pages of sectarian based history and regional conflict that are embedded in Iraq.

That all said, Iran’s decision to remove tacit support that it has long given to Iraqi leader Nouri Maliki yesterday does create a small mirror of opportunity for Iraq to remain a unified nation for a little more time yet. Iran had no particular love of Maliki but it had long recognised that Maliki’s support by the Shia bloc in the Iraqi parliament had been consistent. We should welcome the manner in which Iran has acted. Nevertheless, a break-up of Iraq into three separate states – one for Sunni Arabs, one for Shia Arabs and one for Kurds may at some future point still looks inevitable and we must also recognise that this is the last thing that Iran’s leaders wish to see. They will thus no doubt lean on the new found, or should I say emerging, better relations with the US.

With Iran moving its quiet support away from Maliki to Haida Al-Abadi what occurred in Bagdad yesterday was inevitable. Maliki’s standing aside from a potential third term has been rightly heralded in the West as a success but with the jury having only just gone out to decide whether the new Prime Minister will be any better than the last providing a platform of relevance in the Iraqi parliament for Sunnis and Kurds, it would perhaps be right to be a little more cautious in our views yet.

Iran’s behaviour in terms of moving support from Nouri Maliki to Haida al-Abadi is nevertheless welcome. But note also that in his resignation address to the nation Maliki said only that he was standing aside to allow Haida to potentially form a government and that although he would give his full backing to his successor he would remain in the military. That in itself could pose a future threat to Haida’s ability to bring Sunni and Kurds alongside.

We might wish of course that Iran’s behaviour in terms of its consistent level of support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad might also evaporate but somehow I rather doubt that is likely. Maliki’s departure may well slow down the relentless pace at which the Islamic State movement will progress from here a touch but don’t imagine for one moment that this change marks a reversal of its fortunes. That the US and Iran appear to be aligned in their opposition to Islamic State is clearly to be welcomed but with only limited military action planned by the US I would suggest that peace in Iraq will remain a very hard if not impossible objective to achieve.

CHW (London – 15th August 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710-779785

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