IRAQ: Some Good News Amidst the Bad and the Terrible

Kurdish Peshmerga

Kurdish Peshmerga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The terrible news is that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is still threatening the annihilation of “tens of thousands”  (originally 50,000) of a small sect called Yasidi’s trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq.

ISIS also continues to threaten a  Kurdish city named Erbil where we have a consulate.   And those are only the negative highlights.   ISIS threats keep popping up.

The good news is these events have triggered air strikes in both areas by the U. S. which have curbed ISIS efforts in those spots for the moment.  I have read of a pathway off the mountain, but also that ISIS is still advancing, so the situation remains dangerously unclear.   From the perspective of stopping ISIS, the announcement that the CIA is beginning to send arms directly to the Kurds is more good news as they they are pro-American, unlike many Iraqis, and  have a security force, the pesh merga that is willing to fight.  Ironically they are outgunned by the ISIS forces who captured many arms and military vehicles that we had supplied to the Iraqi forces who fled their advances.

Of course arming the Kurds is tricky business  given their inclination to establish an independent state rather than remain a part of Iraq, while U. S.  policy aims for a united Iraq.  However, this kind of situational dilemma is the rule not the exception when dealing with the Greater Middle East.  There are no potential solutions without possible negative repercussions.

Also, I realize that for many that this involvement raises the specter of the U. S. becoming deeply committed in Iraq as we did before.   But this is an emergency situation what with a power vacuum in that country leaving it ripe for ISIS advancements and slaughter throughout.    Right now ISIS seems the biggest threat to  overall stability in the region making them the enemy of basically all nations nearby.   Finding ways to defeat them seems the top priority, so much so that I can imagine cooperation, open or covert, with the likes of Iran and Russia despite our generally adversarial relations with them.    Perhaps we can even learn to stomach Assad if our interests momentarily correspond.

The strength of ISIS is also its weakness.  It is so fanatical and frightening that even al-Queda disowned them.   The rich backers from Sunni Arab states that supported the rise of ISIS  – foremost  Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait – must have second thoughts now that they appear a threat to their own homelands.  Backing them had meant at the time backing their fight with Shia dominated  states, like Assad’s Syria, not Sunni dominated countries like their own.

So ISIS has few friends and many enemies.   The biggest problem right now is that the efforts to stop ISIS  lack unity.  A  huge stumbling block has been the refusal of Prime Minister Malaki to step down, even though he has no backing among Sunni and Kurds and even the Shia have largely turned against him.   The good news is that the parliament has coalesced around selecting Haider al-Abadi, a member of his own party, to replace him.

Malaki’s  fate seemed to be sealed several days ago when the top cleric in Iraq, Ali-Sistani, announced he must step down, a sentiment that was then echoed by the leadership in Iran, who had supported him in the past.   But just yesterday it seemed he might employ military force to retain his position.  However, about two hours ago came reports that Malaki has told the military to stay out of the political process which suggests he will launch a legal challenge to the change but otherwise submit.

What I have just written as a brief summary of events is expanded in an article yesterday in the Washington Post  by Loveday Morris and Anne Gearan.   The first part of the article deals with the Prime Minister appointment and the second part with the Yasidis and the Kurds in northern Iraq.   It obviously doesn’t include Maliki’s statement regarding the military which came this morning.

P.  S. – For those who read my previous post where I said I would write next about Israel  and Hamas, well, the above news usurped center stage, especially as Israel and Hamas are slated to begin a three day (or however long it lasts) cease fire.

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IRAQ: Who is Nouri al-Malaki?

Yes, Prime Minister of Iraq.  But who is he as a man, a man our government did much to promote to his present position and continued to back through the G. W. Bush and Obama administrations, but now is commonly seen as the biggest stumbling block to any real effort to unify the country.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Iraqi...

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after a joint press event on Camp Victory, Iraq, April 7, 2009. Obama spoke to hundreds of U.S. troops during his surprise visit to Iraq to thank them for their service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I read that the Iraqi Parliament,  scheduled to meet tomorrow, Tuesday, has put off meeting until August 12.   Basically it seems they have not found a way to move forward and select a Prime Minister.  More deals and arm twisting seem in order.

Al-Malaki has asserted that they first must deal with the ISIS threat and then deal with national unity issues, but there is much opposition to his remaining PM, even within the Shia community.

While the ISIS campaign to conquer the country has stalled somewhat, much of that seems to be a matter of their just not having enough warriors – usually estimated at around 10,000 – to continue to expand their authority.  Of course, they receive some military support from various Sunni tribes, and what seems tacit support from many more (all of which is impossible to sort out), but the government forces are holding their own better right now.  Even taking back some territory.

However, none of that really addresses the basic issue of Iraq unity, which the Kurds are quite willing to do without, as both them and the Sunnis are fed up with unity meaning a centralized al-Malaki government marginalizing them into second class citizens, especially the Sunnis.

Given the centrality of al-Malaki’s role in what’s next and to help clarify how we got to this point, I recommend reading this editorial by Ali Khedery:  Why we stuck with Malaki and lost Iraq in the Washington Post.  From 2003 to 2009, Khedery ” was the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq, acting as a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a senior adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command.”

In short, he’s been a veritable fly on the wall over years of key American diplomatic discussions on Iraq.  Also, he knows al-Malaki well, even considering him a friend whom he backed early to become Prime Minister.  By 2010, though, he came to see him as the biggest stumbling block when it comes to Iraqi unification.   Khedery was part of the Bush administration that basically plucked al-Malaki from obscurity and boosted him to his present position, but then argued in 2010 with the Obama administration, albeit in vain,  that they must find someone other than Malaki to back.

In short, Khedery, unlike so many other commentators, seems most interested in telling what happened rather than trying to score political points.   He blames himself for helping the Bush administration promote al-Malaki to power and blames the Obama administration for continuing to back that unwise choice:  “By looking the other way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President Bush unwisely initiated.”

The editorial is quite long, so you might want to skim some of it, but it offers numerous interesting insights, such as the dominant role Iran has attained in shaping the politics of Iraq.  The piece is an antidote to the spin from both parties blaming each other for the failed state that Iraq has become.