Tuesday, December 20, 2011

US power in Iraq is now in a freefall

The US, contrary to my expectations, seems to have pulled its troops out of Iraq. There has been talk in the Western press that after the pullout is complete, Iraq and the US would more quietly come up with a way to bring a significant number of troops back into the country. Recent events make that seem either unlikely or irrelevant.

Instead the US now has 20,000 troops in Kuwait, a country that does not have to worry about voters disapproving of foreign policy decisions.

As an aside, the question over Egypt is will that country become more like Iraq, where voters' preferences already significantly influence policy-making, or will Egypt become more like Kuwait, a country leftist commentator Juan Cole and the right-wing US organization "Freedom House" describe as "partly free" because while any preference expressed by voters can be overruled by a pro-US dictator, there is a democratic veneer in the form of a parliament with limited policy power.

But the US has openly been working to find a place in Iraqi politics for former CIA agent Iyad Allawi and his Iraqiya party and in the days after the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq that effort has decisively failed.

Again about Egypt, because the Egyptian conflict is by far the most important event in the Middle East today, yes, I expect US influence over Egypt to decline very quickly after a government accountable to Egyptian voters takes power. But that is what democracy is. The opposite of that is colonialism. The US has to decide, and after deciding it will make even more clear to the world than it already has, whether or not the US intends to remain a colonial power in the Middle East on behalf of Israel. The cost of the US maintaining its current colonial role will only increase.

But there was a recent attempted attack, in the Green Zone, on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's life, and Maliki seems to believe that parts of the Iraqiya party were behind it. It is impossible that this attempt was not discussed in last weeks' meeting between Maliki and Barack Obama in Washington DC, but I've found no mention of it in press reports of their meeting.

An article in the Telegraph references the claim that there are elements of the country that are working to execute a coup against Maliki's government:
Over the past two months, Mr Maliki has ordered the arrest of hundreds of people connected to Saddam's ousted Ba'ath party after claiming that intelligence documents provided by Libya's transitional government showed they were plotting a coup.
I'm not sure what to make of this connection to Libya, but that country, now that the tens of thousands of senseless and avoidable deaths of civilians and soldiers caused by NATO's intervention are behind us, is going to be another interesting political system to watch over the next year.

The Christian Science Monitor tells a story of Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, a Sunni member of the Iraqiya party being detained but then released on the way to Kurdistan.
Hashimi and several other Sunni politicians were about to fly to Kurdistan Sunday evening for dinner with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani when Maliki's head of military intelligence ordered them not to depart. According to one account, from a leading politician who declined to be identified due the sensitivity of the issue, Hashimi, vice premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, and Finance Minister Rafie al-Essawi were already aboard the plane when they were ordered to disembark.
After a flurry of phone calls involving political figures from nearly every party, Maliki relented and allowed the men to continue the journey.
The New York Times later introduces the detail that Kurdistan is not under Baghdad's control.
On Monday night, Mr. Hashimi was in the northern semiautonomous region of Kurdistan, beyond the reach of security forces controlled by Baghdad. It was unclear when — or if — he would return to Baghdad.
Effectively Iraq has been dismembered and while I've seen hints, I have not until now seen this spelled out explicitly in a mainstream Western news source.

The freefall in US power in Iraq though is represented by the direct intercession by the US Embassy on behalf of members of Hashimi's security detail who made videotaped confessions again reported in the Christian Science Monitor:
Iraq's Interior Ministry announced Saturday that it would televise the confessions of the first two suspects that night, but the plan touched off a firestorm. The US embassy, silent for most of the past year in the face of other political excesses, objected publicly. It said in a statement that US officials had not yet seen the actual confessions and urged Iraq to investigate all allegations "in a transparent manner in accordance with Iraqi law."

On Sunday, Iraq's supreme judicial authority ruled that the confessions of the alleged "cell" members couldn't be aired until the investigation is completed.
A normal embassy does not expect to see actual confessions before a government makes a decision to report them or not. Ambassador James Jeffrey acted in this case as if the station in Baghdad is not a normal embassy. Which is to say the United States fairly openly and routinely tries to intervene in Iraqi politics in a way that at least somewhat subverts Iraqi sovereignty.

But striking is the total failure of that intervention, reported the next day by the New York Times:
The government made its case against Mr. Hashimi in a half-hour television broadcast that was as aggressively promoted as a prime-time special. In grainy video confessions, three men said they had committed murders on Mr. Hashimi’s behalf. They said they had blown up cars, attacked convoys with silenced pistols and were rewarded with envelopes containing $3,000 in American bills.
The faction of the Iraqi political system most beholden to the United States has not only never gained a secure foothold in power in Baghdad, but now faces eviction from even participating in Iraq's national political system. US leverage over Iraq remains in the form of military and economic agreements and the Saddam Hussein-era Chapter 7 UN Security Council sanctions that the George Bush and Barack Obama have very pettily refused to lift after Saddam Hussein was deposed.

But for the US to have any influence over Iraq at all, there also have to be people inside of Iraq's political system who want to cooperate, to show deference toward the US. This episode shows that the US is losing this very rapidly.


Arnold Evans said...

There are two things in particular that I think Iran has gotten very good at.  One is Hezbollah-style asymmetric fighting and the second is countering anti-revolutionary coups.

I don't think any Western country can militarily hold any territory where Iranians are helping coordinate the resistance and I don't think the West could pull off a coup of against a government Iran supports and advises.

I don't know if there was a planned coup attempt and don't know if there was US involvement or participation in that planning, but of the things that worry me about Iraq, a successful coup against the elected government, with Iran neighboring and supportive of the government in place, is not one of the things I worry about.

Not to say that Maliki should not take reports seriously, but to say that I don't think there ever was a chance that something like that could work.

Unknown Unknowns said...

You have your finger on the pulse, Arnold. This business with the al-'Iraqiyya party walking out of the parliament and the ministries under their control is the story to watch, and I for one would appreciate any updates should you care to post them. I'm not holding my breath, but it seems that it is possible that Iraq's shift towards the Axis of Resistance or Autonomous States, if you will, is accelerating.

Unknown Unknowns said...

Huh. UU succeeds where Irshad and Empty have failed. Must be that spiritual gravity. LOL.

lysander1 said...

"Most" UNSC sanctions against Iraq were lifted in December of last year. Iraq still has to pay 5% of its oil revenues as reparations to Kuwait. (preposterous, but true)


Kooshy said...

May be the assassination of the prime minster and a coup was a last resort before the pull out,  obviously US will use elements that they are connected to a foreign, third party government when it comes to state terrorism.