With Iraq’s WMDs failing to turn up in any underground bunkers or freight trucks, George Bush’s administration turned to its strategic plan B in order to keep America’s political and psychological fortunes alive. Far from pampering Bush’s political allies and America’s MIC in general, U.S. troops had stormed Baghdad to free Iraq of a brutal dictator and promote democracy in the Middle East. Who could disagree with the nobility of this mission?
Not President Barack Obama, who rightfully opposed a war on false pretext and took a contrarian stand on Iraq’s surge. “Responsibly” withdrawing from a self-governing Iraq now serves as his lone political card as America’s last combat troops exit Iraq.
No one can argue that a government does exist in Baghdad, but what type remains open to interpretation. Touring Washington in a show of solidarity with Obama’s administration, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was greeted as “the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq.” This description needed 100 hours to foment the new phase of a long-standing political crisis in Baghdad. After Saleh al-Mutlaq, a former Baathist and one Iraq’s deputy premiers, described al-Maliki’s rule as “worse than Saddam Hussein," Iraq’s Prime Minister sent a letter to parliament asking its members to withdraw confidence from one of Ayad Allawi’s allies.
Evidently Mutlaq was "shocked" to hear Obama describe al-Maliki as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq."
"America left Iraq with almost no infrastructure,” he warned in a recent interview with CNN. “The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship. People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster. Dividing the country isn't going to be smooth, because dividing the country is going to be a war before that and a war after that."
Allawi’s Iraqiya List is also using the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops to highlight the unresolved divisions within al-Maliki’s government; Iraq’s Prime Minister controls the Defense and Interior Ministries despite a power-sharing agreement. Spokesman Haider al-Mulla said the bloc “has always expressed its rejection to the policy of exclusion and marginalization, lack of power sharing, politicization of the judiciary, the lack of balance within the government institutions.” These omens gained negligible traction in the U.S. media as Obama’s officials cleared the way for their own narrative, but Iraq’s reality could only be obscured for so long.
"There is no democracy in Iraq," Allawi told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
Several weeks ago counterterrorism police went so far as to raid Mutlaq’s Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (Hiwar). Sunday witnessed a semi-related development when Mutlaq found himself detained on the same plane as Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq’s vice presidents. The group of Sunni politicians was eventually allowed to continue on their trip to visit Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, but not before government officials informed Hashimi that he may be charged for conspiring to smuggle “assassins” out of Iraq. Iraqiya is fully backed by Riyadh and Hashimi, a Sunni, has been implicated in a targeted campaign against Shia figures.
The dilemma beyond this immediate charge is al-Maliki’s credibility to conduct a proper investigation or hearing. Reuters also points out “a dispute between the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Maliki's central government over oil and territory is also brewing.”
The majority of these developments aren’t the product of sectarian and ethnic loyalists, as the WSJ claims, but Iraq’s fundamental political divisions and personal rivalries. According to several blocs of parliament - Iraqiya, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shia allies - America’s political favoritism also bears a portion of responsibility. Allawi was never strongly supported by Washington, but forced into working with al-Maliki’s coalition against his better judgement. Nor have U.S. officials deviated from their scripted narrative that American troops left behind a “new opportunity” for Iraqis.
Obama ultimately antagonized many of them by reminding al-Maliki that he has “a strong and enduring partner in The United States of America.” Biden similarly “reiterated the United States’ longstanding support for an inclusive partnership government” - a statement that Allawi can partially agree with. Iraqiya’s chief told Al Sumaria TV, “If Maliki adopts reconciliation and true openness, I would stand as a real supporter. Otherwise, Iraq will be facing endless tensions in the future.”
Allawi has yet to receive a consolation post that would oversee Iraq’s foreign policy and security issues, as promised by U.S. officials. Now he regrets putting his “trust in the Americans.”
"We must work hard to gather the pieces and move peacefully to a situation of true democracy; this is the responsibility of the political forces and Iraqi society especially after the United States' failure in Iraq.”
Iraqiya and the rest of Iraq’s anti-Maliki parties are operating under the impression that he’s finally weakening with the exit of U.S. troops. Mutlaq doesn’t seem to expect any trouble with a non-confidence vote, predicting that parliament is more likely to turn on al-Maliki. The former Baathist came to power under external reservations, but his warnings cannot be ignored when echoed by so many Iraqis.
"There will be a day whereby the Americans will realize that they were deceived by al-Maliki ... and they will regret that.”
Aside from an external attack or internal suicide campaign timed to America’s combat exit, the U.S. mission in Iraq couldn’t have ended on a lower note. And despite the immediate loss of life, a deep-rooted political breakdown is more consequential than a security breach. America’s combat troops have left Iraq’s security forces to test their independent abilities, but the fourth-generation war spawned by their entrance remains active. At the strategic level, praising al-Maliki on the way out undermines the last-resort argument of removing a dictator. This error could be more costly than failing to extend America’s security presence, another decision that would have encouraged al-Maliki’s behavior.
Iraqis are entering a new era - of uncertainty. Surrounded by “friends,” they must free themselves out of political strife and forge the creation of a democratic legacy.