Shiites: Game, Kurds: Set, Sunnis: Match, US: Loss
by Leon Hadar
is something pathetic in the recent efforts by the Bush administration
(reported by the New York Times this week) to try to enlist Europe,
the Arab world and the United Nations to pressure the ruling Shiite-Kurdish
coalition in Baghdad led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to
include members of the Sunni minority in the political process.
all, these European and Arab states, as well as the majority of
the UN members, had opposed the unilateral US invasion of Iraq.
Moreover, the Bush administration had threatened after the invasion
that Washington would "punish" France and Germany for
their refusal to back the American occupation of Iraq. It also threatened
that it would take steps to form an alternative organization of
democratic nations to replace the United Nations. A few neoconservative
ideologues even hinted that they would like to get rid of the current
authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
now the same regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, together with "Old
Europe" – France and Germany – and the much maligned UN are
being asked by the same American officials to, please, press the,
yes, democratically elected government that has been backed by 140,000
US troops to try to be a bit more open and democratic.
doesn't bode well for the long-term viability of the emerging Democratic
Empire if the imperial power is not able to impose its will – not
to mention its set of liberal democratic values – on a weak government
that is dependent on the United States for its survival. And all
of this is happening just as some Americans are considering another
regime change, this time in Iran.
here we have another of those bizarre foreign policies produced
by the Bush team in which the Saudi theocracy and the Egyptian military
regime – that rule over the two most important Arab-Sunni countries
in the Middle East – are being recruited by the Americans in the
campaign to democratize Iraq and the Middle East, and help in strengthening
an Arab-Shiite government, with ties to a traditional enemy of the
Arab Sunni states in the region, Iran.
may try to market this interesting and complex spin during the coming
international conference on Iraq in Brussels. During this meeting,
some nations would probably provide some assistance to help in the
economic reconstruction of Iraq, which could turn out to be a waste
of money if the country is not secure and stable any time soon.
security and stability will only come not if and when the new rulers
of Iraq are forced to play by this or that democratic rule, but
if and when the three major ethnic and religious groups of Iraq
– the majority Shiites, and the Kurdish and Sunni minorities – reach
an accord to divide power among them.
problem is that such a workable deal between the three groups that
will bring the Sunnis into the coalition and lead to the drawing
up of a Constitution looks very unlikely even under the best of
circumstances, that is, when all sides agree to forgive and forget
past sins by the rival groups (expulsions of Kurds, massacres of
Shiites, assassinations of Sunnis) and refrain from settling old
of US troops
any legitimate Sunni leadership would demand the withdrawal of American
troops from Iraq and the re-creation of a unitary Iraqi state since
the only sense of identity that can allow the Sunnis to feel part
of Iraq is rooted in Arab-Iraqi nationalism. But both the Shiites
and the Kurds know that only American military support would prevent
the Sunnis, who are backed by outside Arab-Sunni forces, from regaining
control of Iraq. They want to Americans to remain in Iraq to prevent
the reemergence of Sunni power.
Kurds can be expected to oppose even an agreement on a timetable
for US military withdrawal and insist on the establishment of a
decentralized Iraq and the control of oil-rich Kirkuk. But both
the Shiites and the Sunnis – as well the Turkish government – reject
those demands by the Kurds.
the same time, any sensible Kurdish or Sunni leader would recognize
that a deal with the Shiite majority would lead to the increasing
influence of the Shiite clerics and Iran in Iraq, which makes it
even more difficult to reach an agreement between the three groups.
The Saudis and the Egyptians are certainly worried that, indeed,
Shiite-ruled Iraq would become a political-military satellite of
complex reality of the never-ending shifting national, ethnic and
religious alliances in Iraq and the Middle East makes it inevitable
that American troops will remain in the country for years, and like
their British imperial predecessors in the region, pursuing a divide-and-rule
strategy that will only become more and more costly.
the two governments that could actually help the Americans stabilize
the situation in Iraq are Iran, whose ruling clerics have strong
political and military ties to the Shiites across the border, and
Syria, whose government is worried that the religious radicalization
of the Sunnis in Iraq could spill over into the Sunni majority in
Washington is not about to seek the help of the two governments
since it expects them to collapse soon under the force of the "democratic
revolution" sweeping the broader Middle East and which has supposedly
just reached Lebanon.
a coalition of Saudi-backed Sunni, Maronite and Druze warlords is
pitted against a pro-Syrian Shiite political-military alliance,
and an anti-Syrian ex-general – who enjoys the support of (surprise!
surprise!) pro-Syrian parties – could become the kingmaker.
is hailed in Washington as good news for America. Which is probably
true if we compare it to the situation in Iraq.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.