Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 7th, 2012

The United States Taking the Backseat in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 7 June 2012 16:34

It hasn’t quite received the media attention it deserves: During the midst of the current political crisis in Iraq, the top US diplomat in Iraq, Ambassador James Jeffrey – a recurrent figure in many conspiracy theories about elaborate US schemes for dividing and ruling the region – must have sneaked out the back door.  Already, the Wall Street Journal is making interviews with him referring to his “past” tenure in Iraq, and this week, despite the climax of the moves to unseat Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Ibrahim al-Jaafari met with a chargé d’affaires from the biggest US embassy in the world.

Wait. Wasn’t Vice President Joe Biden, the Iraq czar of the Obama administration, supposed to show up in Baghdad instead this week? Well, that was what the rumours said but we’re at the end of the working week in Iraq and still no Joe in Baghdad. It seems the Iraqis – not without some sort of loud cheering from the Turks and the Iranians – will be sorting this one out themselves.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the next US ambassador in Iraq, was still in Washington in a Senate confirmation hearing answering rather lame question about oil production, Sunnis and Shiites and militant groups. It is however noteworthy that McGurk – who has been so strongly associated with US backing of Maliki that Iraqiyya promptly declared they would have nothing to do with him upon his nomination – was at pains to express an evenhanded approach to Iraqi politics. If a new PM were in place tomorrow, McGurk would deal with him as with Maliki. “Political agreements” [meaning Erbil] would be respected alongside the constitution. And McGurk went even further than that. Apparently reflecting the success of a strong Kurdish lobby in DC, he declared his desire to visit Kurdistan “every week” of his tenure if confirmed. That is a lot of travelling for a high-value US target in Iraq!

Of course, Ambassador Jeffrey must have left on or around 1 June, when his tenure was supposed to end anyway. Be that as it may, the net effect of all of this may be that the United States will have only a limited role in the question of whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will go or not. Right now, it actually seems an intra-Kurdish struggle with some considerable Iranian pressure on President Jalal Talabani is the main factor behind the delay of the introduction of a non-confidence vote against Maliki in the Iraqi parliament.

Some will no doubt see this kind of limited US involvement as a desirable process of disengagement. That would be a fair interpretation had it not been for the very glaring and physical image of the mega embassy of the Americans in Baghdad – the remnant of an altogether different vision of hands-on US involvement. (The Jeffrey remarks to the WSJ came in a story on the unexpected downsizing of the CIA presence in Iraq.)

It would be fair to talk about successful disengagement had it also not been for the fact that what remains of US fingers in Iraq seem to be working at counter-purpose. In the embassy as well as in the US Senate, discussion is still about Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds and the implementation of the Arbil agreement. There is complete failure to realize that all of this replicates the Iranian conceptual model of an ethno-sectarian Iraq and ultimately will serve to strengthen Iranian influence – or to partition the country into Iranian and Turkish zones of influence.

One result of recent developments in Iraq is that Sadrist criticism of Maliki has put pressure on Maliki to fix his relations with some other Shiite partners with whom relations had soured in recent years, such as ISCI, Badr and Fadila. It has also meant creating links to rather unsavoury circles in the former Sadrist militia Asaib Ahl al-Haqq. All of this plays into the hands of Iran.

Conversely, there is one recent development that might have the potential to solidify Iraqi independence versus the regional environment: The recent alliance between Maliki and Sunnis from the disputed territories in northern Iraq. Typically, this very significant trend for anyone who believes in an independent Iraq was never mentioned in the US Senate hearing on the next American ambassador to Iraq.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 48 Comments »