The political stalemate in Iraq has illuminated well that it is a battlefield in more ways than one. Iraq is now a who’s who of foreign governments'(as well as foreign companies), all trying to win over the influence of Iraq’s next generation of politicians and businessmen.
Is this just politics, or is Iraq’s future going to be tied to the respective governments that levy the most influence upon it? For sure, the United State’s Occupation of Iraq ensures that it’s influence will remain for a geat deal of time. As to what extent that influence will be, that issue is still up for debate. Some are saying that U.S. influence is already waning. Yesterday an article in the Washington Post posited that Iraqi politicians are no longer as beholden to American advice as they once were. Instead, the article describes that they are now being shepherded along by regional powers who are trying to claim stake in this new Iraq.
“The Iranian ambassador has a bigger role in Iraq than Biden,” said a prominent Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman. He said the Americans “will leave Iraq with its problems, thus their influence has become weak.”
Although American presence in Iraq has waned recently as it looks to save face from an unpopular and costly war, the so called regional influence that is said to be replacing it has roots all the way back to the deadly authoritarianism of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Ex-Baathists who had fallen out with Saddam, or other political leaders opposed to the Baath regime fled to neighboring countries where they received support. Syria and Iran became hubs for Iraqis escaping Saddam, and it was here the many opposition groups formed with the hope of one day overthrowing Hussein. In time, many of these opposition groups had established connections with these respective governments. One of the bigger examples is the Shia opposition to Hussein in Iran, which acted under a number of umbrella organizations that was collectively known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. As the United States moved away from being allied with the Hussein regime (as it was during the Iran-Iraq war, seeing the Iranian Islamist regime as a great threat to its interests in the region) and toward a more belligerent position regarding Iraq, the SCIRI was brought into the fold, receiving American support in addition to the sanctuary and support it received from Iran.
What becomes interesting, when you step back and look at Iraq from a strategic perspective, you can easily see the impact that foreign government’s have had in the past, namely the U.S. and Iran. Was the Iraq war just an extension of that strategic battle?
For instance, take a look at Iraq’s two(arguably) most powerful political men. The incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the head of the Iraqiyya Bloc Iyad Allawi. Both have been shuttling throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world in the last few weeks to try and win over support for their respective, as of yet unformed coalitions, which would give them control of the country. Maliki traveled to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Khamenei and shake hands with President Ahmadinejad. Iran has recently backed Maliki for the premiership after Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc, which has deep ties with Iran, decided to back him(many say because of Iran’s prodding). Maliki has in the past walked a thin line in this regard, welcoming American support when it was in his best interest, (even reigning in Sadr’s violent Iranian-backed Mahdi Army after much coaxing from the U.S) but also recognizing Iran’s great influence in his country. Maliki himself has his own ties with Iran. While in exile in Syria, He and his Dawa party worked closely with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Although Maliki and Iran are by no means strange bedfellows, it is the Sadr Bloc’s support that has him to some extent cozying up even closer. Iran, whose stakes are tremendously high regarding the outcome of this political battle, favor Maliki over Allawi, who has no love for Iran and it’s presence in Iraq.
Allawi himself is another Iraqi, who while in exile fostered close ties with foreign governments. He formed the opposition group called the Iraqi National Accord which received funding and worked in conjunction with the CIA, even undertaking a failed coup in 1996. He is the United States’ obvious choice to lead Iraq. And the U.S., after urging an end to the political deadlock in Iraq for so long, is now seeking to stall the process in order to bring Allawi back into the fold.
U.S. officials initially encouraged the Iraqis to form a government quickly, but recently started pushing for a slowdown after it became apparent that a party led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was poised to play a major role.
It is not uncommon for political dissidents to align themselves with the foreign governments whose foreign policy agendas make their services useful. The current course of Iraqi politics seems to bear that out. Those old allegiances are just a convenient way of staying relevant in the battleground of Iraqi politics. It seems as if one does not have the backing of a great and powerful nation behind them, then they will not go far.
Yet what of Iraq’s people? They seem to have been forgotten with all this political intrigue. Will their voices be heard? Will the electricity be restored? Will unemployment go down? Will poverty be decreased? The old adage goes that “all politics is local.” Yet in today’s Iraq, that is far from the case. Iraq’s population is the one feeling the brunt of the pain, and while political leaders bicker, they will continue to suffer.