Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Little to Celebrate in Iraq

by Robert Dreyfuss

There's little to celebrate about the US pullback in Iraq.

More than six years after the US invasion, Iraq is shattered. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead -- far more, incidentally, than even the largest estimates of the number of Iraqis who died during 35 years of Saddam Hussein's rule -- its social fabric is utterly destroyed, its economy is in ruins, and its dominant political faction is in hock to neighboring Iran.

And now what?

As we pull back, we're leaving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in charge. Increasingly, Maliki is taking on the trappings of a dictator. He's established a network of security agencies that report directly to him. He's built a countrywide patronage system to bribe and pay off tribal allies, in anticipation of 2010 elections. He's shown no compunction against using the army, the police, and the secret agencies he controls to eliminate rivals. He's used divide-and-conquer tactics to outflank the Sunni-led sahwa movement, known as the Awakening or the Sons of Iraq, driving some of them back into armed resistance and others into sullen resentment or fear for their lives.

And Maliki, despite his protestations that he is a born-again "nationalist," has close ties to Iran. With Iran now revealed as a fundamentalist-run, naked military dictatorship, I expect Iran to act ruthlessly vis-a-vis Iraq, and if he wants to stay in power Maliki will pretty much have to go along.

A prominent Sunni activist from northern Iraq told me yesterday that anyone who thinks about opposing Maliki in Iraq has to fear for his or her life. The fact remains that despite the resurgence of secular nationalism in Iraq, as evidenced by the results of provincial elections last February, Maliki sits atop a conspiratorial little party called Al Dawa, a fundamentalist Islamist grouping, and he is reliant on a small, secretive clique that surrounds him. During the February election, in order to appeal to Iraqi voters, Maliki posed as a nationalist of sorts, but in fact he is dependent on two outside powers. First, he's dependent on the United States, for despite his bravado about the US withdrawal from Iraq's cities, Maliki desperately needs American backing to remain in power, to build up his armed forces. And second, Maliki is dependent on the good will of Iran, who could topple him instantly if he crossed Tehran.

And Obama?

It's clear that Obama doesn't want to think about Iraq. It seems like he's hoping it just goes away, so he can worry about Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine. But Iraq's not going away.

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/447282/little_to_celebrate_in_iraq

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