Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January 25th, 2012

The State of the Union and the Iraqi Enfant Terrible

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 18:16

White House speechwriters must be thoroughly annoyed with Iraq these days.

Last month, barely had the dust settled after the departing US forces and jubilant ceremonies in Washington before Iraqi politicians began escalating their political antagonisms to levels not seen since 2006. Even though the whole thing is somehow still hanging together, the signs of warning are arguably more numerous than for many years.

Yesterday, just hours before President Barack Obama was to deliver his State of the Union address, Iraq blew up in his face again. Close to the capital Baghdad, Mulla Nazam al-Jibburi was killed by a gang of gunmen. Jibburi was a prominent defector from Al-Qaeda who had helped build the largely Sunni “Sahwa” movement in support of the Iraqi government.

This was not quite in harmony with the message of Obama’s address. Hours later he told us, “Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.”

Because, in Iraq there are no Al-Qaeda anymore, right? Except that they may well have been the ones who opted to assassinate Jibburi just hours before President Obama’s speech.

The problems in the State of the Union address as far as it related to the Middle East don’t stop there. How about Iran? Again, according to Obama, “Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.”

Are we so sure that Obama’s policies in the region have consistently weakened Iran? Is it not the case that after failed US diplomacy in 2010, Nuri al-Maliki was forced to rely on sectarianism to clinch his second premier term in ways that at least temporarily increased Iranian leverage in Iraq? Is not the resultant maintenance and reinforcement of the Tehran–Damascus axis part of what makes Iran able to resist other manoeuvres by the international community?

Or maybe US policies towards Iran have different goals:

“Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”

So, no nasty nukes please, and we’ll  give you a free hand in Iraq in return? Is that the deal Obama is envisaging? Perhaps Iraq is better left for Iran and Turkey to slug it out, “bringing the region back” as VP Biden once called it?

Let’s consider the region more broadly:

“As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sanaa to Tripoli.  A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators – a murderer with American blood on his hands.  Today, he is gone.  And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.

Saudi? No matches found.

Bahrain? No matches found.

What if Iranian oil is sufficiently attractive to Asian markets to make the likely impact of the boycott –  higher oil price – bigger in crisis-hit European economies than in Tehran? This might well enable Iran to hold on to Syria and control Iraq while preventing Obama from talking tough on human rights to the remaining “strategic” allies in the Middle East due to continued reliance on their oil.

Unless Obama can maintain a consistent discourse on the Middle East, perhaps it would be better to leave the region out of the State of the Union address altogether.

Posted in US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 28 Comments »