Post US Iraq: Implications for Asia
Soon as the last of US forces crossed over into Kuwait Monday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia, labelled terrorism charges against the Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al Hashemi and ordered his arrest. Hashemi’s party Al Iraqqiya has since boycotted the Parliament and the cabinet even as Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan.
While the US has advised Maliki to restore order there apparently is no pressure to put the “strategic partnership with Iraq” under strain. The scenario developing in Iraq belies hope for a multi ethnic Iraq’s “democracy” to flourish.
Was that the aim of US invasion of Iraq? 20 years since the first NATO planes flew over Iraq to liberate Kuwait, we are back to square one with astronomical war costs of $ 1 trillion dollars, 4500 NATO fatalities and 100,000 Iraqis dead. In the words of Christopher de Bellaigue in his article Iraq: What remains:
“The unraveling of Iraq’s national power-sharing agreement bodes ill for sectarian harmony in the future. With Iran as a powerful neighbor, and Syria as a conflicted one, the country is awkwardly placed. For all that, Obama’s decision was the only one he could have taken: America had to leave Iraq because it should never have been there in the first place [....] America’s failure in Iraq marks the end of a century of ill-judged invasions, coups, and other attempts by western powers to manipulate events in the Middle East. It is an important moment.
A similar story is unfolding in Afghanistan where President Obama is at odds to define victory and force a face saving withdrawal. But as precedence in these ethnic fault lines dictate, here too the desired positive outcome will be utopian and we would see more ethnic turbulence post the withdrawal.
While the US chose not to maintain military presence in Iraq as a conscious decision, it appears to be hedging for 6-7 permanent bases in Afghanistan to manage the security situation post 2014. Under the new Afghan strategy, U.S. advisors would probably be attached to Afghan combat units in teams of 12 to 16. They would help the Afghans plan operations, provide them with U.S. military intelligence and call on U.S. backup forces when needed. The new strategy doesn’t promise any kind of quick victory. Instead, it promises mostly to give the Afghan army a chance to fight a long, slow war to convince the Taliban that they can’t win.
Why President Obama rubbished military’s advise of retaining bases in Iraq is a mystery considering the Saudi Arabian and Iranian influence to fuel the Shia Sunni divide in Iraq to meet their strategic aims. It though is too early to discern if this would prolong into another strong strife or turn into a whimper. One thing though is clear – the forces of political islam are at work in middle east like never before. If Iraq falls into the trap it would change the political geography of the region – all bolstered by the West to the delight of regional players. As if on cue, the first suicide attacks took place in Babil province Thursday morning, about 80 miles south of the capital Baghdad, killing 63 and wounding 185. It outlines the shape of things to come in post US Iraq.
Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani who brokered the alliance after last years elections says the deal is now in the danger of collapsing and this may lead to strengthening the forces of balkanisation. We have to be patient to await his prophecy coming true. If this were to happen Iraq may change its borders to form a Kurdistan, an Iran influenced Shia state and a Saudi Arabia promoted Sunni state.
Then there are the Syrian worries. Collapse of Bashar el Assad’s regime may bring Sunnis to power further reinforcing the Sunni Iraq. Maliki and the Shias are paranoid about the emergence of a Sunni Syria with Baathist and Salafist tendencies aka 2006 sectarian violence in Iraq.
Afghanistan faces similar choices with a “dirty picture” emerging on the horizon. If it is unable to put a strong government at the centre representative of all ethnic groups with a clear power sharing arrangement, the centrifugal forces would cause it too to fracture along ethnic fault lines duly engineered by Pakistan. In Afghanistan the chances of such a division are way too strong considering the pulls and pressures it is likely to face from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan apart from its own accentuated ethnic fault lines.
Pakistan, the “eye of the storm”, has created situations in the region which seem to be getting out of hand of its generals. As per M. Chris Mason, a retired diplomat with long service in South Asia and a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defence Studies in Washington, the way to put the Pakistani genie back in the bottle and cork it is to help the Baluchis go the way of the Bangladeshis in achieving their dream of freedom from tyranny, corruption and murder at the hands of the diseased Pakistani military state.
That much for redrawing the boundaries!!
US today has virtually lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite putting its best assets on ground primarily because the campaigns were not thought through in terms of defining victory. Was it to defeat Saddam Hussein or Al Qaeda or democratise the rabid Islamic states? Depending on this perspective of faulty politico military aims these wars are a failure as Maliki has begun the process of ethnic cleansing of Sunnis soon after the US forces reached Kuwait.
Right now the information available is too sketchy and whimsical. The Muslims do not have a united polity world wide. There are more differences between same faith Muslims (Shia/Sunni) than one can imagine and all sub fractions are hardliners. If you add to that the reality that they do not also have a strategic or any real vision, you see them squabbling rather than playing out a Balkanisation game plan…Pakistan is a good example of what we mean.
- Iraq PM tells Kurds to hand over vice president (cbc.ca)
- With US gone, Iraq’s Maliki is setting the board for a power grab (csmonitor.com)
- Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatens to replace Sunni ministers (telegraph.co.uk)
- Iraqi deputy denounces death squad accusations (smh.com.au)
- Iraq vice-president denies charge (bbc.co.uk)
- Taking stock of America’s defeat in Iraq…and Iran’s regional role (redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com)