Obama’s IS strat­egy and new “in­clu­sive” gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad high­light make or break time for Iraq

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

Just six months ago US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama deemed groups such as the Is­lamic State (IS) as mi­nor play­ers. Obama’s re­cent speech out­lin­ing his strat­egy to de­feat IS, in­clud­ing ex­tend­ing air strikes to Syria, un­der­scored the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion just a year after Obama hur­ried away from launch­ing air-strikes against Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons against his own peo­ple.

Obama’s re­vised ap­proach is a tes­ta­ment to the grow­ing power and in­flu­ence of IS in Syria and par­tic­u­larly Iraq and the for­eign pol­icy fail­ings on Syria where a dev­as­tat­ing civil war shows no sign of end­ing.

Such was the dan­ger that just weeks ago, wellarmed IS mil­i­tants were ad­vanc­ing to doorsteps of the Kur­dish cap­i­tal of Er­bil. US air strikes helped push back IS forces with the US and Euro­peans pow­ers pro­vid­ing much needed arms and sup­plies to Kur­dish Pesh­merga forces.

No doubt the tim­ing of events over the past few weeks has been in­ter­linked with the chang­ing strat­egy of the US. Obama has al­ways em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of Iraqi unity and an in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment that can truly en­tice the dis­en­fran­chised Sunni com­mu­nity into the po­lit­i­cal fold and into an al­liance against IS. A key pre­con­di­tion for the launch­ing of air strikes and with it the re­sump­tion of mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties in Iraq, years after Obama cleaned his hand of George W. Bush’s legacy, was the end of Nouri al-Ma­liki’s quest to seek another term.

Just days later Ma­liki backed down and Haider al-Abadi was an­nounced as the new Prime Min­is­ter. As for the Kurds, US and Euro­pean support of Kur­dish forces was on a clear ba­sis – the re­luc­tant Kurds must par­tic­i­pate in the new Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment, help in the greater fight against IS out­side of Kur­dish bor­ders and pre­serve the unity of Iraq.

Fur­ther­more, Iraqis were un­der pres­sure to cob­ble to­gether a new in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment be­fore Obama’s cru­cial strat­egy was an­nounced this week.

Obama may have been re­luc­tant to launch an in­evitable war on IS, but aside from pub­lic shows of unity, Iraqi politi­cians will have been just as re­luc­tant in form­ing a new in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment.

It was rem­i­nis­cent of the days of the past, where US pres­sure of­ten was a key fac­tor for Iraqi po­lit­i­cal break­throughs and agree­ments at var­i­ous junc­tures of the Iraqi tran­si­tion post Sad­dam Hus­sein. How­ever, whilst agree­ments and coali­tions were ul­ti­mately made, of­ten it lacked real ba­sis or buy-in from all sides.

Although US air power will be a sig­nif­i­cant hand, the US strat­egy re­lies heav­ily on Iraqi forces on the ground driv­ing out IS mil­i­tants. Whether Pesh­merga forces, Shi­ite mili­tias and Sunni tribal forces can be united to oust IS re­mains to be seen. A great deal de­pends on whose turf they are fight­ing for.

Such is the dis­parate and frag­mented na­ture of Iraq, that it is doubt­ful whether the afore­men­tioned forces will truly fight any­where other than where their zones of in­ter­est lie on the ground.

The Kurds may have joined the new gov­ern­ment, but the cen­tral­ist and marginal­i­sa­tion poli­cies of al-Ma­liki still ring in their ears. The Kurds par­tic­i­pated in Bagh­dad with much scep­ti­cism that al-Abadi will suc­cumb to their key de­mands or follow a dif­fer­ent course to the poli­cies of Ma­liki on oil ex­ports, na­tional bud­get, dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries and sta­tus of Pesh­merga forces.

The Kurds ne­go­ti­a­tions with al-Abadi have al­ready hit an im­passe on Bagh­dad’s out­stand­ing pay­ment of the Kur­dish share of the na­tional bud­get and the sta­tus of Kur­dish oil ex­ports.

After giv­ing suc­ces­sive Bagh­dad gov­ern­ments many ul­ti­ma­tums and agree­ing var­i­ous pre-gov­ern­ment ac­cords over the years, many of the key prom­ises and agree­ments were never ful­filled. For ex­am­ple, there is still no of­fi­cial Hy­dro­car­bon Law and seven years after the orig­i­nal dead­line for im­ple­men­ta­tion of ar­ti­cle 140 has passed, it still re­mains to be re­solved.

In this light, the Kurds have been some­what pre­dictably scep­ti­cal on fur­ther agree­ments or prom­ises from Bagh­dad, giv­ing al-Abadi 3 months to meet their de­mands and 12 months to set­tle is­sue of dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries.

Al-Abadi’s pro­posal in­cludes a peace­ful set­tle­ment to ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes as well as the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the Pesh­merga forces as a Na­tional Guard Force, in­clud­ing arms and train­ing, a Kur­dish de­mand that stretches to 2005.

The Kurds have re­ceived four Iraqi min­istries in­clud­ing Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, but it is clear that Kur­dish in­ter­ests do not lie in ti­tles in Bagh­dad, but in ex­pand­ing Kur­dish au­ton­omy, self-suf­fi­ciency and se­cu­rity ca­pa­bil­i­ties i.e. all the fac­tors that hinge on Bagh­dad ful­fill­ing Kur­dish de­mands.

Ei­ther way, the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq has long changed, and the Kurds are not about to give-up con­trol of dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries they have se­cured with much sacrifice or con­trol of oil ex­ports only to see their eco­nomic for­tunes pinned on the good-will of Bagh­dad.

Aside from the Kurds, it re­mains to be seen whether the con­ces­sions to the Sun­nis will be deemed enough. The buy-in of pow­er­ful Sunni tribes and armed Sunni groups are much more im­por­tant than buy-in of Sunni politi­cians in Bagh­dad. Key Sunni de­mands re­main de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power, an au­ton­o­mous Sunni re­gion and the in­cor­po­ra­tion of Sunni tribal mili­ti­a­men into the Shi­ite dom­i­nated Iraqi se­cu­rity forces.

Above all, this lat­est at­tempt at form­ing an in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment and the breath­ing space that the US is will­ing to af­ford Iraqi forces in bat­tle to erad­i­cate IS, makes this make or break time for Iraq as a state.

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