28 jul. 2008

The Way to a Time Table

One of the major questions in Iraq is the position of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Is he really independent and not leaning on help from Iran? If he gets Iranian help he is not different from the Badr militia which is the military arm of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Maliki has been in exile in Iran and Syria during the Baath regime and the Badr militia are trained and armed by Iran. That’s no secret. It is the reason why Muqtada al Sadr finds more support in the Iraqi people who don’t want to become a satellite of Iran. This is an ethnic question, because most of the Iraqi Shiites are Arab citizens and Iranian Shiites are Persians. The ancestors of Muqtada al Sadr came from Lebanon and they have a more modern feeling about freedom of religion and still be themselves very orthodox, guarding their societies against strange influences. Well, that’s not to call very radical in the Near East, but you cannot imagine that Muqtada al Sadr will allow strange Persian Shiite influence and also not a western influence from foreign occupiers or extreme Sunni combatants of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Until march 2008 Nouri al Maliki was cooperating with the occupiers and of course this was held for collaboration with the enemy by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, from which 94% wants the foreign troops out of their country. Especially for the Shiites the Iraqi country is a kind of holy land with different holy cities and there is an infidel in charge or no infidel presence to be allowed. So, the collaboration of the government of Maliki meets harsh resistance from different groups, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites and Nouri al Maliki’s friendship with Iran and their support makes things more worse for him, but he is the protection for Persian Shiites. The fight for power between Al Sadr and Al Maliki has to be fought in Bagdad’s Sadr City and the harbour town Basra with other cities in the Southern regions where Shiites are dominant. To gain control over Basra was the goal of Al Maliki’s attacks in March 2008 and he did not succeed. The governments army, police and other institutes are heavily infiltrated by Muqtada’s followers and so he is not out of control when he announces a cheese fire to limit the losses. His military power is not very strong, with a lack of weaponry in the Mahdi Army and his fighters have to feed their families. When they fight, they levy taxes on the public and when that situation has to last too long, they become unpopular. The function is that Muqtada al Sadr can show his great influence. He can invoke massive violence and he can take violence down as he wishes. The Mahdi Army disappears from the streets, but don’t think that the “winner” is in charge. After all Muqtada al Sadr has a strong coalition with Sunnis and Kurds and leads the opposition in the Parliament, his primary battleground.
So, when Nouri al Maliki could not weaken the position of Muqtada al Sadr, Al Maliki became in great danger, because of the developments in the neighbouring state Iran, where Russia guaranteed the security against attacks from outside with something in return. The former Sovjet giant does not like the Iranians to have atomic weapons, nor that they gain great influence in Iraq, which is a threat for the Arab nations. So, they want to control both against dangerous developments and with a friendly state at the Gulf they can put through their products like oil and natural gas to the Indian Ocean, a centuries old Russian wish.
So, Iran is not allowed by its mighty friend to interfere in Iraq and risk an American attack for that. In that case they lose the Russian support, but the consequence is, that Nouri al Maliki stands alone as soon as the allied occupiers are going home. He needs new protection and the best protection is to stand up against the USA. That has united the different political parties and by now the government gains its first country wide support. The difference is still that Nouri al Maliki wants a federal state, divided by ethnic and religious borders, while the opposition wants restoration of the unity-state, like during the Baath regime, but without a dominant group in charge, a balanced power sharing and sharing the wealth of the oil to be spent in public services and equal benefits.
It will be a hell of job to clean the institutions from corruption and power abuse but the concept is admirable. Political unity and descent rivalry on some political differences is no danger. There are elections at October 1, 2008. Therefore we have now the idea of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and it is no longer the exclusive point of view for a Democratic candidate to be the Democratic nominee for Presidency. The idea is shared by Iraq from Al Maliki to all the parties and down in the public. The year 2010 seems to be the common agreement.
There are three figures opposing this, President Bush, who wants only to speak about a time horizon, Republican nominee John McCain, still looking for a long term control over Iraq and Tehran.
That’s right. As has happened so often in recent years (driving the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, Iran’s greatest foes, from power), Mr. Bush finds himself pushing a policy that coincides with Iranian interests. From the start, Tehran has wanted to frustrate American goals in Iraq but not defeat them. So long as the United States is bogged down there, the clerics reason, it won’t have the desire, domestic political support and wherewithal to attack them.
How did we reach this point?
The Iraqi about face on timetables came to light in news reports about talks between the U.S. and Iraq on security agreements. U.S. troops are currently operating under a United Nations mandate that will expire in December and needs to be replaced if the American military is to continue to operate legally inside the country. It quickly became clear that any deal was likely to be short-term, and unlikely to openly sanction the long-term presence of American forces. But details of that future agreement are under dispute.
The Elections Complicate Everything
Iraqi leaders fear that they could be punished in provincial elections planned for later this year if they agree to a deal that spells out a long-term presence for American forces. Some clerics have pushed the Iraqi government to reject any kind of deal with the Americans. It’s possible that any deal may have to be postponed until after the provincial elections.
Of course, the American elections have not made anything clearer, as the bickering about Senator Obama’s timetable underscored. There is some support for a short-term deal that could be renegotiated later, with the eventual winner of the presidential campaign.
Any Deal May Be a Short-Term Deal
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin reported that American officials are no longer confident that a complete security agreement can be reached this year. Iraq’s foreign minister has raised the possibility that even if an agreement was reached, it would be a short-term pact.
Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has also said that he favours a short-term deal over a longer four-year agreement.