Civil war feared in unstable Iraq / Fugitive vice president says U.S. left a power struggle (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Susan Crabtree 07/08/12)
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A dramatic uptick in violence and political instability in Iraq have
raised fears that Baghdad once again is tilting toward civil war.
A half-year after the U.S. military left Iraq, the war-weary country
is beset by violence as insurgents take advantage of the power
struggles between the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions.
“Iraqis are living in real tragedy every day. It is unfair to just
leave the Iraqis facing such difficult circumstances,” Iraqi Vice
President Tariq al-Hashemi said in an exclusive interview with The
June was Iraq’s second-deadliest month since U.S. troops pulled out
Dec. 18, 2011, and a major bombing or shooting rampage occurs about
twice a week. Many target Shiite pilgrims and carry the hallmarks of
al Qaeda - although some Iraqis said they think other factions are
Clashes in neighboring Syria and lethal attacks by the Sunni-led
opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime are emboldening Iraqi
Sunnis to attack government targets, exacerbating sectarian tensions
in a “spillover” effect, regional analysts say.
“It’s quite remarkable to me that everyone is so concerned about
Syria and the spillover that could take place with a Syrian civil
war, but an Iraqi civil war would be worse,” said Ken Pollack,
director of the Brookings Institution´s Saban Center for Middle East
“Iraq is an oil producer and is in the midst of one of the most
important regions. The spillover could affect Iran, Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia,” Mr. Pollack said. “All the things that make us concerned
about Syria ought to go double for Iraq.”
‘In election mode’
Mr. al-Hashemi, his country’s highest-ranking Sunni, bemoaned a lack
of U.S. leadership in Iraq - and growing Iranian influence - as Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, maneuvers to consolidate power.
“I know [the Obama administration is] in election mode, but the
American administration missed a golden opportunity,” Mr. al-Hashemi
said in the telephone interview. “They just left Iraq facing
The Iraqi vice president reportedly is hiding in Turkey to avoid
arrest on terrorism charges in Iraq, where he is being tried in
absentia. He vehemently denies the charges, saying they were trumped
up by Mr. al-Maliki in his bid to seize more power.
Mr. al-Hashemi has given a series of recent interviews promoting a no-
confidence vote on Mr. al-Maliki and calling on U.S. officials to
exert more pressure on the Iraqi leader to abide by agreements
brokered in 2010 that paved the way for forming Mr. al-Maliki’s
Meanwhile, Mr. al-Maliki has responded to political infighting by
threatening to call for early elections that would dissolve
parliament, betting that he would win and consolidate his hold on
power. Those moves are aggravating tensions with U.S. officials
concerned that the Iraqi premier is violating power-sharing
agreements and allying himself too closely with Tehran.
Last week, a reporter asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland whether the relationship between Mr. al-Maliki and the United
States “is really quite tense these days.”
“We continue to have the same kind of dialogue that we’ve had all
along,” Ms. Nuland said. “We maintain an open channel not only with
the prime minister, but with all the major political figures in Iraq,
and we use those challenges to encourage them, among other things, to
work well together and to settle their political differences through
While violence in Iraq tends to increase in the summer months and
appears far from a full-blown war, any country’s descent into civil
war is difficult to predict and often happens suddenly in reaction to
a particularly violent or symbolic attack, Mr. Pollack said.
“The one concern the [Obama] administration has is if Iraq really
tanks in the run-up to the [U.S.] election, then the decision to
withdraw troops will be seen as a mistake,” he said.
Time for pressure
Iraq analysts argue that it’s high time for the Obama administration
to step up its effort and exert pressure on Mr. al-Maliki.
U.S. options are limited, but some say the administration should
threaten to withhold assistance, including the shipment of military
aircraft Iraq recently ordered, if Mr. al-Maliki doesn’t back down.
Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study
of War, has suggested that Mr. Obama invite Mr. al-Maliki and his
Sunni and Kurdish counterparts to a summit “somewhere in the West to
hash this out.”
“If not, we will no doubt be treated to yet another series of visits
by Iraqi leaders to Tehran as the Iranians again demonstrate their
willingness to engage where Americans withdraw,” she wrote in a
recent piece posted on the institute’s website.
Others say Mr. al-Maliki’s consolidation of power was inevitable,
simply the result of one political faction gaining power over
another, and the influence of Iran, Iraq’s northern neighbor, is
impossible to avoid.
“Iraq is certainly one of those cases in which the winner, Maliki,
tends to abuse the losers,” said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They may have
coalitions of convenience. No Iraqi politician can avoid dealing with
Iran. We compete for Iran just as do the southern Gulf states for
influence in Iraq.”
As far as the Obama administration’s ability to convene the sectarian
factions for a meeting, Mr. Cordesman did not mince words. “Are you
familiar with the phrase ‘snowball in hell?’ ” he said when asked
about the prospect of such a gathering.
Mr. Pollack urged U.S. officials to exploit Iraqis’ interest in
American public opinion polls.
Right after the military’s withdrawal, he said, U.S. officials should
have been opposing Mr. al-Maliki’s power grabs and voicing a more
prominent set of internal Iraqi domestic infrastructure goals in
areas such as agriculture, education and reconstruction.
“Naming and shaming seems to matter a lot to Maliki and the Iraqi
parliament,” Mr. Pollack said. “This is the perfect opportunity for
us to urge al-Maliki to start reaching out and making concessions and
trying to seek compromise.”
Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, a 30-year Army veteran who served in Iraq,
Bosnia and Somalia and is now a senior adviser at the National
Security Network, said the U.S. had little choice but to pull out its
troops because Iraq’s government no longer wanted them there.
But he said the Obama administration could do a much better job in
laying out a firm “carrot-and-stick” approach to dealing with the
aftermath of the U.S. pullout. As soon as possible, and well before
the November election, he would like to see the administration set
goals to help give Mr. al-Maliki the incentive to reach out to
It could consist mainly of U.S. expertise and training - not monetary
assistance, he said.
“You would need somebody of a [Richard C.] Holbrooke status or of
Secretary of State [Hillary Rodham] Clinton’s stature to personally
pull this thing together,” he said. “So far, I am not seeing that
level of organization and planning.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports. (© 2012 The
Washington Times, LLC. 07/09/12)
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