Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Once More, Washington Puts the Cart before the Horse in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 19:25

First, the Obama administration played a key role in Sunnifying the Iraqi nationalism of Iraqiyya so that it could be more acceptable to Iran: By encouraging Iraqiyya to accept a junior, “Sunni” role in a power-sharing arrangement for the next government where the Iranian-supported Shiite parties clearly have the upper hand, Washington basically gave Iran what it wanted in Iraq in terms of a politics defined in sectarian fronts. To add insult to injury advisers to Obama went on to spin the US involvement in the affair as a triumph of American diplomacy against Iran! Today the US government went a little further: To celebrate the latest “progress”, it decided it was time for the UN Security Council to give up some of what little remains of outside-world leverage in Iraq, including a formal termination of the oil-for-food programme and restrictions relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Unsurprisingly, it was Vice-President Joe Biden that dominated today’s proceedings in the UN Security Council, convened under the US presidency, but in every other respect awkwardly timed. Despite the lack of substantial progress in the Iraqi government-formation process, Biden chose to focus on supposed “remarkable developments” in Iraq. Other US officials have cited “very real progress” and even “tremendous progress”. They do not even seem to notice that the Iraqi parliament has yet to address the legal framework for the supposed cornerstone of the power-sharing “deal”, the national council for high policies, without which the whole “agreement” is basically a spin-doctor masquerade. It should be added that the UNAMI report that formed the basis for today’s discussion of the “progress” is comparatively sober: Although it fails to acknowledge the considerable challenges involved in legislating brand new institutions of power to make the deal work, at least it recognises that some of the issues involved in the power-sharing deal belong to the sphere of constitutional revision – where progress is measured in years rather than in months.

For good measure, with respect to the lifting of the measures relating to weapons of mass destruction, the action by the UNSC came before Iraq had actually conformed to the relevant inspections protocols, with the only hard leverage now remaining in the hands of the international community relating to Kuwait and debt. The circularity of the US approach and the problem of timing were clearly revealed in the speech by the Iraqi foreign minister, Hosyar Zibari, before the council today: According to Zibari, the latest action by the Security Council proved that today’s Iraq was very different from the Iraq of Saddam Hussein! Of course, a major worry among many Iraqis is precisely that Maliki’s second premiership could develop into a very authoritarian one, but instead of asking critical questions (and using leverage) at this sensitive stage of the government negotiation process, the international community elected to celebrate the non-existent progress and the imaginary power-sharing. There was a deafening chorus about “Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and Christians” by confused diplomats who do not understand that their “inclusive power-sharing government” is just a carve-up whereby some hundred politicians get the jobs they want at the expense of the governance of Iraq and its people. In this respect, the Arabic language is actually more honest than the English: They call it simply taqasum al-sulta, i.e. “divvying up” power, rather than sharing it.

Zibari promised the new government would be formed “very, very soon”; representatives of Lebanon and Bosnia were among the well wishers.

16 Responses to “Once More, Washington Puts the Cart before the Horse in Iraq”

  1. amagi said


    I read that Iraqiyya is trying to make government formation contingent on passage of the new council. Any insight?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Well they keep saying that, but the law on the projected council was not on the agenda of the parliament meeting that got postponed from Tuesday until next Saturday. Some on the Shiite and Kurdish sides speak in favour of decoupling the two issues altogether, and strictly speaking they would probably have the votes to do so, if only just. But such trifling questions don’t matter for the august UNSC.

  3. Thaqalain said

    I have a question, why Iraq has to pay war damages to Kuwait. Saddam was sponsored and funded dictators of several regional nations and superpowers, so why a nation to pay its hard earning at a time, when you can see condition of an arab is worst then all other neighboring non-Iraqi arabs and even worst then third world labor.
    Is it not possible to make a fund like “Friends of PAKAFG” fund to help the nation at war times.
    Moreover why you always segregate Iraqis on liguistic or sectarian lines. Why US/ EU don’t apply power sharing agreements to their own parliaments. Why you failed to present a comparative analysis of what the world wants behind the name of so-called DEMOcracy!
    Is democracy definition same inside and outside Iraqi border. Why not you increase your scope of in depth analysis to cover more severe issues of other GCC and non-Iraqi arab style democracies?

    99% of your posts cover only Iraq’s internal fraternal issues, can you start writing about Gulf issues.


  4. Joe said

    Reidar, thanks, I tend to agree with you about Chapter VII. But I’m confused about your opening line. You say regarding the US: “By encouraging Iraqiyya to accept a junior, “Sunni” role in a power-sharing arrangement for the next government where the Iranian-supported Shiite parties clearly have the upper hand, Washington basically gave Iran what it wanted in Iraq in terms of a politics defined in sectarian fronts.” But what choice did Washington have?

    The deal done between Maliki and the Sadrists, engineered with Iranian approval, proved that power politics were done (as they often are in this region) in a manner and fashion which the US was largely unable to affect (admittedly through some, but not complete, fault of its own). Agreed, the US missed its chance to push for a stronger, more nationalistic coalition, but once the State of Law/Sadrist deal was done, what choice did the US have but to advocate for some viable role for Iraqiyya within the context of Maliki’s successful power play? Washington didn’t ‘Sunnify’ Iraqiyya…Iraqiyya’s constituents did! Iraqiyya’s membership and base is overwhelmingly Sunni. Without a viable role, those Sunnis who voted would doubt the very benefits of voting (although I acknowledge they have much to doubt anyway).

    If I remember correctly, an earlier post on this site encouraged Iraqiyya to accept the CoR Speaker position, which they did, and which Osama Nujayfi seems to be receiving high marks on many fronts for his performance there so far. Additionally, there are reports that Allawi is becoming more satisfied with the progress of the NCSP Law, as well as reports that Iraqiyya will receive Ministry of Finance and may even get to name an “independent” Minister of Defense. These developments, while not as optimal as a truly nationalistic, non-sectarian coalition, do indicate at least a measurable check on Maliki’s power. Just a few thoughts – thanks for the post.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, the Sunnification involved trying to press Iraqiyya into a power-sharing arrangement in which they would supposedly represent Sunni interests. In my view, Iraqiyya and Iraq would be better served by a purely (and more national) opposition role, as advocated in the piece on the speakership. The USG is rather obsessed with having some kind of symbolic Sunni representation inside the government and at one point even expressed concern that Allawi was not “Sunni” enough (which of course he isn’t, if you want to adopt a sectarian perspective).

    Thaqalain, these writings reflect my current research interests, which concentrate on Iraq more than the Gulf generally.

    By the way, it is amusing how the Iraqi press is reporting the latest “triumph” as the supposed “lifting of sanctions” on Iraq. Of course the most significant item, relating to setting money aside for Kuwait, still remains. But it shows how Maliki’s position is once more boosted by the actions of the USG.

  6. The only way I could understand the US motives is thru obsession with cutting costs. It seems to me that the Obama administration is the emotional counterpart to the NeoCons with their total disregard and cavalier attitude to miscalculations of the cost of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, as if you can’t have a sensible middle ground for US foreign policy.

  7. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    what prevents Iraqiya from still opposing policies that they disagree with while still being able to hold on to the speakership and ministries?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, I see no problems as far as the speakership is concerned, but with regard to the ministries… Power corrupts! Iraqiyya members would face the difficult choice between going along with policies on Kirkuk and oil that they told their constituents they would oppose, or else losing their lucrative ministry jobs… That’s why I think a purely opposition role would work better for them.

  9. Salah said

    the Obama administration played a key role in Sunnifying the Iraqi nationalism of Iraqiyya

    Here we go, from behind the curtains US doing and decorating Iraq politics, so what have to do with democracy and political process here?

    You researching and analyzing Iraq democratic process as from the above statement build on a fake process how that been taken as genuine research and objective analyses.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I have read and re-read your comment above, but I’m afraid I don’t understand it so I can’t answer! Could you please rephrase it or put it in Arabic instead?

  11. richie chop said


  12. Salah said


    Of course its very easy to put it in Arabic but I would like all readers read not just those who can understand Arabic.

    The point I like to express here that you put all your efforts on the Iraqi politic system and the birth of new democracy with “help” from the west…. This all along argument of this process of politic in Iraq, according the very basis of democracy means.

    According to the very basics of democracy means, so I can say what we seen in Iraq just a process you name it whatever name you give it but it is not a democracy. As much as US heave no attentions “did not care” about Iraqis as people” to spread and give them the freedom and free choice to have their say and to rule there country in the way any nation “nationalist people” does.

    US tried direct rule of Iraq occupying the country they failed, then the handover scenario made convincing some who thinks and believes that Iraq no longer occupied and ruled by handpicked “parties” people turn to be thuggish, gangster and militias style parties imposing themselves on Iraqis with help and protection from US. This is not hard to analyses there is no need of rocket science to understand watching the past seven years tragedy in Iraq.

    Therefore, your effort to analyzing Iraq politic will be far from accurate and the reality inside Iraq due to the above reasons unless you believe there is genuine politics going on inside Iraq, by all mean there is none as the most corrupted, unfaithful people have pushed to the top who demonstrate they have no attention about Iraq. This not just one fiction here all sort Sunnis, Shiites and Kurd all these gangster running for their self-gaining from the power vacuum that generated by US for them.

    Just to add one more thing here about the lifting of the measures relating to weapons of mass destruction. As far as many reports said and published by UN agency UNSCOM they announced Iraq have no WMD, we knew well that Hans Blix and others even Kofi Annan spoke, so this action by UN or UNSC should have realised and lifted those restriction years ago.

    Why it takes more than seven years by UN to released now that these restriction should be lifted? Can any one explain to us what the in illegible terms and the confliction g with testimonies from top UN folks.

    The other point here looking the meeting that the decision made, Biden was heading the meeting and vote in favour, so its definite that not UN as much as thinking to do so as US like to do it right now which the shamble election new government inside Iraq and just to make things looks good for this time.

  13. Jason said

    The Obama Admin’s motives are clear, as much discussed previously: to exit Iraq ASAP before the 2012 elections, facilitated by an armistice government on theory of reducing likelihood of another conflagration, while celebrating (prematurely?) Iraqi accomplishments in order to rationalize and justify its withdrawal.

    I’m not an Obama supporter, but even so I think the criticism may be too much. Iraqiya became “Sunnified” as a result of de-Baathification’s reappearance during the elections, and would have remained so either inside or outside the new govt. And although the probability of another conflagration occurring with Iraqiya in opposition may have been small, the magnitude of harm it would entail is completely unacceptable considering the blood and treasure that has already been spent and the possibility of having to go back in for another round of civil war.

    Finally, I predict total realignments around actual issues in the near future in which Iraqiya will play a vital role and re-find its nationalist credentials. From the north, Kurdish demands will galvanize nationalist Sunni and Shia alike in common cause. From the south, Sadrist corruption may further push Iraqiya and SOL together into a core central group. Thus, any efforts today to establish “sectarian fronts” may not survive for long anyway when confronted with the issues on the road ahead.

    Of course, the green fly in the ointment will continue to be Iranian money and influence, which I believe was instrumental in the use of de-Baathification as a wedge issue in the election to push Shia away from Iraqiya.

  14. Thaqalain said

    Its true washington rgime is busy in sunnifying, dictating, imposing their policies, todays incident shows a little evidence of how deeply CIA is operating.
    First they Bulkanize Baghdad, now USGOV is busy in Baghdadization of PAKAF.

    Undercover CIA Head who worked in Baghdad is uncovered today and its shame US has pulled him out now from Islamabad after a lawsuit is filed against him.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, just to be clear, I’m not saying that the policy of the USG is the sole culprit in the Sunnification of Iraqiyya, part of which was underway already prior to the elections, as I have written about earlier. Rather, I’m talking here about the “continued Sunnification” in the post-election period, where both Iraqiyya and SLA could have been encouraged to seek more national roles. Though we should not forget that US policies were also involved in the pre-election polarisation of sectarian politics, first by warning Maliki against pushing the agenda of the central state in relations with the Kurds, secondly by failing to stand up to the de-Baathification challenge.

    Salah, it is true that I try to analyse the workings of the Iraqi political system using some kind of democracy model as a backdrop; that, however, does not mean endorsement of the Iraq War and the subsequent occupation. I just find it somewhat futile to spend time criticising the original decision to go to war since the issue has been debated quite thoroughly already.

  16. Salah said

    We cannot stick with only one factor here “Iranian money and influence” there were many players in Iraq each one doing his best to have it on his own way.

    Reidar, thanks for your points, I do agree we past that point long time ago but what we have today still far from real democratic process/style in may aspects and means.

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