Is this the Beginning of the End in Iraq?

portes2658.jpg Written by Harry Hagopian

Has Iraq started witnessing a period when combat operations will gradually give way to stability operations instead, and when the much-needed mission of nation-building can start in earnest? Let me admonish readers that we should not indulge too hastily in over-confidence, or worse complacency. Just witness the recent vile attack against the police academy in Baghdad or the later incident in western Baghdad that resulted with many casualties. …

It was certainly noteworthy if not also significant to pundits across the European Union that the Iraqi provincial elections of 31st January took place with strikingly little violence, and that the results not only strengthened the central state but also consolidated PM Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s anti-federalist mandate let alone his hopes for a possible second term in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Besides, the Iraqi security apparatuses functioned more or less well in managing the annual pilgrimage of Shi’i Muslims to Karbala despite a series of violent attacks. No wonder then that we in the West started daring to hope that President Obama’s tenure could perhaps engender a period of increasing consensus and calm in Iraq as much as the gradual re-animation and eventual re-independence of this resourceful and oil-rich country.

This hope that the media translated into political headlines across its pages or news bulletins was further encouraged by President Obama’s announcement of substantial troop withdrawals in the next six months. US combat operations would in effect cease by end-August 2010, and the remaining contingent of American troops, anything between 35,000 and 50,000, that are meant to ensure the period of transition would in all likelihood also be drawn down by end-2011. High time, many associates told me with long and meaningful sighs, not least due to the alarming study by the RAND Corporation that some 300,000 US service members are currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000 have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.

So has Iraq started witnessing a period when combat operations will gradually give way to stability operations instead, and when the much-needed mission of nation-building can start in earnest?

Let me admonish readers that we should not indulge too hastily in over-confidence, or worse complacency. Just witness the recent vile attack against the police academy in Baghdad or the later incident in western Baghdad that resulted with many casualties. Whilst it is true that violence across Iraq has dropped to its lowest ebb since the American invasion of 2003, there have nonetheless been a score of high-profile attacks, including a bombing at a cattle market in Hilla.

Baghdad, for instance, remains a fortress city, with hundreds of checkpoints and tens of thousands of armed security officers lining the streets. In DiyalaProvince, north of Baghdad, local security officials report that there has even been a steady increase in attacks in the past few weeks. In fact, the cities of Ba’quba and Mosul remain plagued by violence.

But let me go beyond physical, psychological or structural violence. Let me remind readers briefly of a few things that need to be undertaken to help turn the tide in Iraq, limit the nihilistic violence of terror-infused groups and encourage Iraq sustain itself through a period of democratic and peaceful transition whereby all communities – Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’is, as well as the smaller ones such as Yazidis, Mandaeans, Sabaeans and Christians – would live peaceably together.

In order to achieve a sense of coherence and coming together for the whole country, it is vital to settle those outstanding issues between the Arab and Kurdish components of Iraqi society that have occasionally descended into disputes and even into ugly spats. I allude first and foremost to the pending status of Kirkuk (and other disputed territories) that has stalled for months due to non-implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution that had called for a plebiscite by end-2007. In addition, a draft federal hydrocarbons law, essential to the production and export of oil and gas from new fields, has also been languishing due to rudimental differences between Baghdad and Erbil. The fact that Kirkuk has a super-giant oilfield and significant gas reserves, when coupled with a history of Kurdish presence and subsequent Arabisation by the late president in the 1980’s, underline the importance of treating this matter expeditiously but also equitably.

Moreover, it is equally necessary to review the Constitution, but one must exercise caution that it is not done at the expense of one community or another. The Constitution must be all-inclusive and preserve the fundamental rights of all Iraqis. This is essential to help the sense of Iraqi resurgent nationalism imbuing the country today. Iraqis can reflect their re-tapped pride in their own country by taking those steps that would ensure a stable security environment for everyone as well as the economic livelihood of all Iraqis. Iraq can well afford democracy with plurality and stability.

Let me add a word of caution though. The global recession would sooner or later lead most Western powers to question their open-ended commitments in Iraq. If the country were to spiral into discord and violence again, the USA, the UK and other allies who find themselves caught up in an extended economic disaster would then be reluctant to continue supporting the unending warfare or costly politicisation of Iraq if – or when – it begins to undermine their own economic recovery. As such, the sooner Iraq regains its health, the better it will be for everyone – Iraqis and other players alike.

So will Iraqis upset the prophets of doom and gloom, put their heads together and sort out their house? Will they heed to those who wish them peace and prosperity, or will they continue to jostle for power and follow the road to perdition?

http://www.newropeans-magazine.org/content/view/9111/1/