The tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq!

The Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) Written by: Ismaeel Dawood and Terry Kay Rockefeller 22/01/2013 (4) More Arms and a Huge Military   Inability to find sustainable solutions for internal problems has opened the door for regional interference in Iraqi affairs and further escalation of sectarian tensions. Instead of working to build good relations with neighboring nations based on mutual interests, a process that could defuse existing tensions and establish a foundation for stability and regional peace for future generations, the Iraqi government accuses the Turkish government of supporting Kurdish and Sunni opposition in Iraq.  At the same time the Sunni opposition accuses the Iraqi government of opening Iraq up to economic and political “occupation” by Iran. Two facts are clear. The first is that many Iraqi politicians unfortunately use international issues to further inflame religious and ethnic tensions. Shiites denounce Turkish intervention in Iraq, while Sunnis denounce Iranian interference.  It has even become a term of insult and humiliation to accuse an Iraqi of being Iranian. The second is that without stronger feelings of unity among its political factions Iraq will remain vulnerable to economic and political interference by other regional powers. None of this supports Iraq developing good relations with its powerful neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.

Rather than working to reduce hostility and tensions, the Iraqi government has made the unwise decision to seek security and stability with more arms and by building a huge army, with special security forces. Despite all that Iraqis – Kurds, Arabs and those of other backgrounds – have suffered from war and violence, troops and heavy weapons from both the Central and KRG governments are once again mobilized around Kirkuk and other so-called “disputed areas.” These areas include cities and villages inhabited by Kurds and various ethnic minorities. Situated in the governorates of Salah al-Din and Dialah, they are supposedly under the administration of the central government, but they are largely controlled by the KRG, and the Kurds consider them part of the Kurdish region.

  There is very little vision, however, about how to avoid more fighting or how to find a path to a sustainable peace for the disputed areas. Kirkuk especially presents complicated issues that constantly threaten to erupt into violence.  But clearly the army cannot enforce a solution. The basis for any lasting settlement must be found through dialogue, mediation and compromise among the residents of Kirkuk and the other disputed areas. The Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum by residents, though until now the central government has not taken any action to prepare for or conduct one.   This could be a moment of great opportunity. Support for the protests in Al-Anbar and Mosul by Kurdish Iraqis and Sadr’s followers offers an excellent starting point for dialogue among Kurdish parties, and Sunni and Shiite coalitions. This could put Iraq on the road to solving internal conflict in Kirkuk and other areas. It could lead to the formation of a new, truly national alliance and a new, more effective government. However there is no guarantee this will happen, after all, many opportunities to address internal problems were missed during the last decade. Al-Maliki’s coalition was allied with the Kurds for more than nine years; they supported the formation of his government. But the representation of different political factions in past governments and their presence in the Iraqi parliament has not led to dialogue and compromise. Iraqis, of all backgrounds and beliefs, are losing hope in the current political process, which is now also threatened by events in Syria. (5) Will Iraq be a conduit for weapons to Syria or a stable, safe zone providing humanitarian aid to civilians fleeing the hell of war? The conflict in Syria casts a dark shadow over Iraq. Other Arab countries and Turkey have supported revolution in Syria, while the current Iraqi and Iranian governments back the existing Assad regime. This is quite a contradiction since the current Iraqi government accuses its opponents of being Baathist, yet it is supporting the only Baathist regime in the region! In disagreement with their government, Kurds and Iraqis living in west and north Iraq (notably Al-Anbar and Mosul) chose to ally, often out of strong family and tribal relations, with their neighbors who were protesting and later fighting against the Assad regime. The Iraqi government has been accused of facilitating transport of weapons and soldiers to defend the Assad regime. News reports from Syria confirm that Iran is sending weapons via Iraq. Al-Maliki’s government fears that change in Syria will create a new, Islamist Sunni and potentially extremist regime. Iraqis -Kurds and Arabs living in the KRG, Al-Anbar and Mosul have proudly supported the Syrian opposition; they are accused of training and sending weapons and fighters to overthrow the Assad regime. During the Iraqi demonstrations some protesters carried flags of the Free Syrian Army, calling for a similar revolution in Iraq. This makes the Iraqi government’s continued support of the Assad regime highly sensitive and potentially dangerous. It increases the sectarian divisions among Iraqis and in the region. If this support continues and the demands of the Iraqi protesters are rejected, any new wave of violence in Iraq may come to be viewed as an extension of the war in Syria. Many Iraqi citizens believe that a more logical position for Iraq at this stage would be to support peaceful democratic transformation in all the Arab countries of the region. They want Iraq to stand in solidarity with people’s struggles for freedom and dignity.  In fact, the Iraqi government did support and continues to support anti-government protests in Bahrain. Democratic transition in Syria is also of vital importance to Iraqis due to its geographical proximity and because Iraqis knows the horrific costs of war and of living under the rule of a bloody dictator, but the current Iraqi government opposes the protests.   Addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria should be Iraq’s priority, especially support for the refugees and displaced families. Iraq should cease serving as a corridor for weapons’ transport – whether to support the insurgents or the Assad regime. Iraq should aim instead to be a stable peace laboratory for international relief organizations and humanitarian assistance. Iraq, with support from the international community, can give refuge to the unarmed civilians fleeing the hell of war and violence.