Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

While Syria and Iran draw the attention of the world, the country between the two has a slow burning fuse heading towards civil war.  It is a bad sign when a country divvies up the top political positions on sectarian grounds.  The failure of Lebanese democracy in the 70s should have given people some pause.  Yet Iraq divides its presidency into three components – a president and 2 vice presidents – to give Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis equal representation.  The current President of Iraq is a Kurd.  The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is Shiite.  The Shiite Vice President,a rival of al-Maliki, resigned last year.  That leaves Iraq with just one vice-president, the Sunni Tariq al-Hashemi.

Unfortunately, since December 2011 Mr. Al-Hashemi is on the run.  The Prime Minister has accused him of running Sunni death squads.  So far none of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors have given this accusation much credibility.  Mr. Al-Maliki returned to power in early 2010 after a very controversial election and has shown the usual authoritarian instincts.  The arrest warrant on Mr. Al-Hashemi was conveniently delivered the day after American troops left Iraq.  Iraq’s Kurdish president refused to surrender the fugitive Vice President when he was in the Kurdish autonomous zone.  Since then Mr. Al Hashemi has traveled to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before settling down to exile in Turkey.

Yet the Iraqi prime minister is undeterred.  This weekend Mr. Al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia, an escalation hardly likely to endear Mr. Al-Maliki to his Sunni countrymen or neighbors.  Whether or not the charges are true, nobody seems to believe them.  As Iraq suffers through another bout of suicide bombings, it shows disquieting signs of a slow slide into civil war.

Like Afghanistan, Iraq needs a statesman in charge.  While Al-Maliki does not appear to be as corrupt and incompetent as the Mayor of Kabul, he has shown tendencies to sectarian one-upmanship and no signs of being the unifying figure the country needs.  The Kurds for all practical purposes have seceded into their ethnic enclave subject to resolution for their claims to the oil rich province of Kirkuk.  Sharing oil revenues is still a sore subject.

With its current leadership, it seems only a matter of time that this erupts into civil war.  If/When that happens it will be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran.  Turkey could be sorely tempted to intervene and stomp the Kurds.  Hopefully sane leadership arises to pull this country from the brink, but my pessimism reigns.

Iraq should be another cautionary tale on blindly stepping into the Syrian morass.

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