Friday, November 18, 2011

Who Won the Iraq War?

"The visit aims to develop bilateral relations, as Iran and Iraq are two friendly countries and neighbours, who must have very close relations,"  The Iraqi armed forces chief of staff, General Babak Zebari, made the remarks during a meeting with General Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards' ground forces in Tehran earlier this week. -AFP

**This article was originally published at Good Bye and Good Luck, a newsletter at the Dept. of Government at the University of Texas. Click here to find original link.

By Ali Rawaf

Last month, President Obama announced the end of the Iraq war, saying the last few thousand troops would withdraw by Dec. 2. While polls show a majority of Americans support the president’s decision, Iraqis have become significantly concerned over increased meddling from Iran. The State Department has warned Iran against interfering in Iraqi internal affairs after the troops leave and also told the Iraqis that Iran will not be a problem in the future. The truth is that U.S. officials underestimate Iranian influence and control in Iraq and the region.

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, who didn’t win the last elections, was able to form a government only because Iran, a Shiite state, pressured the Shiite groups in the country to rally around him and give him the vote of confidence. Al-Maliki, a divisive figure even amongst the Shiites, has been returning the favor to Iran ever since. He has sent the Iraqi army to crack down on Mujahidee Khalk, an Iranian opposition group that has been based in Iraq for a couple of decades. Despite calls from international human rights groups to halt the attacks on the group’s camp, Al-Maliki still periodically sends Iraqi troops to intimidate them. He has vowed to remove the group from the country at the end of the year.

Iranian influence goes well beyond Iraq. In Syria, Iran has been transferring weapons to the Assad regime and abetting Assad’s crackdown on protestors opposing the regime. Last month, California-based BlueCoat said that internet surveillance devices which were sold to the Iraqi government were later found to be used by the Syrian regime to crack down on protestors. How did that happen? The Iranian regime bought those devices for Syria under the name of the Iraqi Communications Ministry.

Al-Maliki is also returning a favor to Iran by keeping quiet about the developments in Syria. As the Syrian regime employed the army to crack down on its people, Al-Maliki hosted a group of Syrian officials and entrepreneurs to strengthen economic ties with the Syrian regime. And recently, Al-Maliki’s foreign minister said Baghdad is committed to preventing any action against Iran.

In the Palestinian territories, Iran funds Hamas, the militant group blocking Palestinian-Israeli peace, and Hezbolla, the anti-western, militant Shiite group in Lebanon. In Yemen, Iran funds extremist, militant Shiite groups.

If Iran is this influential without nuclear weapons, I can only imagine what happens when Tehran acquires such weapons.

If the U.S. follows through with a complete troop withdrawal, Iran would be the sole winner of the Iraq war. The war would have only cleared the way for Iran to exert more influence in the region. After the president’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, an Iranian delegation visited Iraq and signed economic and political agreements with the Iraqi government, whereas there have been mere talks about such agreements between the United States and Iraq.

Iraq’s strategic location in the Middle East would have served as a good check on the encroaching Iranian regime. Now, Iraq  can’t even protect its airspace and its borders. While a prosperous and democratic Iraq would set a good example for the band of countries where people are demanding democracy, a failed one would serve as poster child for how democracy can fail in the Middle East. There is still a chance for negotiations to resume and possibly leave a couple of thousand troops in Iraq. If these negotiations fail, Iraq will be in the hands of Iran and the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers would have been in vain.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Iraq Abstained as Arab League Voted on Syria Suspension

The Arab League decided to suspend Syria's membership.
Lebanon and Yemen voted against the measure. Iraq abstained from voting. 
By: Ali Rawaf

A month after Iraq’s government had cracked down on former members of the Iraq Baath regime, it abstained from voting to suspend Syria’s Baathist regime from membership in the Arab League.  

Only two countries voted against the suspension: Yemen and Lebanon. It is understandable why those two would vote as such. The Yemeni is also facing public demonstrations and protests, demanding democracy. Lebanon’s government, which used to be overwhelmed by Syrian influence, is now dominated by Hezbolla, a militant and political group funded by Iran.

Iraq, on the other hand, should have been leading the effort to suspend Syria’s membership. After all, it is the first country in the region that has experimented with democratization. The Iraqi government, which consists predominantly of Shiites and Kurdish politicians, shouldn’t forget how Saddam Hussein massacred the Shiites and the Kurds when they revolted against the government in 1991.

This is yet another alarming move by the Iraqi government. Such actions invoke only concerns amongst Iraqis. Last month, the government launched a campaign of arrests against former Baathists. More than 600 former Baathists were arrested, some of which were government employees and college professors. Why the crack down on harmless civilians but  The Iraqi Prime Minister said the Baath Party, which is banned by the constitution, was conspiring to bring down Iraq’s new democracy, a claim which Iraqis have heard too many times.

If anything, Iraq's decision seems like another favor to Iran, which has pressed the Iraqi government to support the Syrian regime. A few months ago, Prime Minister Al-Maliki hosted a group of Syrian officials and entrepreneurs  to strengthen ties with the next-door neighbor, while the rest of the world was calling on the Syrian president to step down.

Iraq’s abstention to vote to suspend the membership of Syria’s violent and authoritarian regime offers one more clue as to where Iraqi might be headed in the future.