Iraq: Reflections of a past time

(To Gino Lanzara)
14/01/19

Iraq is a geopolitical gap; the British immediately saw two fundamental elements: oil and the strategic position that made the country a junction point between the Persian Gulf and the connections with the Mediterranean and Asia and, subsequently, a political subject characterizing the bipolar comparison between the Middle East during the War Cold.

From the 1958, with the fall of the British hashemite monarchy and the rise of Baathism, thanks also to a significant re-armament, Iraq has risen to the role of antagonist of the whole MO, in rivalry with Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and above all Iran, against whom he fought one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century. Before the defeat in the Gulf War of '91, then the US invasion in 2003 (due to the definitive Iraqi political annihilation), have exalted the Persian-Israeli competition and accentuated the emptiness of institutional power, exacerbated by the senseless purge of the apparatus state operated by the Americans, stolid artisans of a crisis on an ethno-confessional basis.

Land of passage, land of different ethnicities; to the north the Kurds claim an always repressed autonomy for the Turkish-Iranian fears of an uncontrollable domino effect within their own borders; to the south - zone of strategic oil interest - the Shiites, facilitated by the Persian power projection, are claiming their demographic weight; in the center the Sunnis, ousted from the exercise of power and aimed at the contribution of the Jihadist insurgency.

The war in Daesh provided the regional actors with the motivations for their strategies, with the Kurds committed to extend their territories and prosthesis towards an autonomous referendum that proved to be counterproductive; with Iran aimed at projecting its influence to the Mediterranean from Syria and Lebanon; with Turkey, based on its own boundaries, and engaged in the containment of the Kurdish PKK.

Iraq is experiencing a period of transition whose results are still difficult to delineate, but which lead to considering the institutional process as a compromise laboratory between local and regional political forces. Although the sharing of power is usual practice in a parliamentary system, the problem lies in the nature of the Iraqi parties, since most of the groups are patrimonial entities grouped around a dominant figure or family, and they tend to use the executive for supporting their protective networks, weakening the implementation of anti-corruption policies.

From the ashes

Iraq has actually been the subject of one debellatio, an institutional reset and the establishment of the para-state entity of Daesh, which has challenged its existence. Reduce from the (apparent) victory over the Islamic State, which is now turned to guerrilla warfare in a geographic band that extends into Syria (the jihadist Siraq) and ready to exploit the emptiness that would occur with an American withdrawal in Syria, Iraq seeks a difficult stabilization sanctioned by the 2018 parliamentary elections. The polls, however, did not deliver a net result: no political alliance was able to secure a majority in a governmental key, and even the usual ethnic division (Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds) showed, within the same camps, divisions such as to direct the choice of prime minister over an "independent" and politically "marginalized" candidate, the Shiite Adil Abdil Mahdi, "blessed"From the Ayatollah Al Sistani and the electoral expression of compromise and a malaise that highlighted the distance that exists between the political factions and an electorate still not inclined to a post Baathist trust. The beginnings were not easy, and the formation of the government proved to be of rare complexity.

Sunni revanchism; the Shia movements in Basra, a city with great port potentials but penalized by poor governance and corruption; the volitività Curda, which has nevertheless seen its control of the Kirkuk oil wells diminish, have led to serious obstacles in overcoming sectarian limitations. The prime minister's difficulty in convincing the nationalist Shiite movement of Moqtada al Sadr and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to vote for its own candidates has been associated with a decline in confidence towards Mahdi, lacking its own political coalition but still intent on turning Iraq from rentier state to a productive economic subject. The political framework of the 2019 could therefore be characterized by protests, caused by the chronic lack of services and by the lack of water and electricity (especially after the filling of dams by Turkey), fomented by the Sadrists with consequent fall of the executive. The optimism nurtured by some is based on the presumption that nothing worse is imaginable or desirable. The picture is complemented by the resilience of ISIS, mainly due to Iraq's inability to strengthen state institutions, curb corruption, provide essential services, and the growing political influence of Popular Mobilization Forces, a non-state armed actor actually more prepared and operational than the FFAA itself. ISIS, active in the rural areas of the northwest, will probably grow in the 2019 and, although it can not permanently re-occupy territories, it will constitute a renewed threat.

New identity and "Iranian reflections of God"

The 2019 will see Iraq as an area affected by regional and global conflicts. The sanctions imposed on Iran will place Iraq in a delicate position given the influence, on the one hand, that Tehran exercises on the internal Iraqi decision-making process, and the sanctioning pressures, on the other, that the US will exercise by creating an inviting (but dangerous) productive vacuum that Iraq can fill. Turkey will also play its part, justifying its projection against the PKK as a necessary exercise of "protection of national security".

The internal political arena, characterized by instability with a regression of the Al Da'wa Party and the Al Nasr coalition of former premier Al Abadi, saw the rise of the Shiite lists of Muqtada al Sadr and Hadi Al 'Ameri, perceived as the most suitable to carry out a valid reform of the state; the electoral alliance with the communist party was considered, on the one hand as a proof of Realpolitik, on the other hand as an example of the existence of contradictory factors of change aimed at ensuring the liberation from the Iranian conditions. The challenge, however, is difficult: to revitalize the Iraqi state by shaping a national identity that syncronizes sects and ethnic groups, which protects Iraq from the consequences of a possible Iran-US conflict, and which therefore translates into an effective process of recovery of sovereignty.

How will the Ayatollahs react? The Khomeinist export of the Iranian revolution collides with theiraqismo nationalist of Sadr, which tends to undermine the influence of Tehran, due to the links with the militias trained by the Pasdaran; more pragmatically Iran, according to the same US line, could point to a containment that, although not rewarding it as a leading country, would not allow anyone else to be: a sort of non zero sum game not liked by Sadr, who might prefer the return to a "street politics", Opposed by the Iranian proxies.

The truth is that many want to take possession of a slice of influence in Iraq: after Iran, USA and Turkey, even Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE consider it essential for the maintenance of their national security. If there are Americans, there is Israel; the threats of the Jewish state to take action against Iranian targets require full coordination between the two states, also in light of Iran's intentions to hit US targets; the entry into force of the sanctions against Iran, and the transfer (deterrent?) of Iranian ballistic missiles to Iraq in support of the Shiite militias, suggest the idea of ​​a latent bellicism but held back by more substantial economic-political interests. A fundamental role is played both by propaganda, spread through religious centers and a network of local and satellite media, and by religion, for which Tehran has spent millions of dollars. Iran has opened religious schools in the holy cities, financing the studies of young Iraqi religious, among which the Khomeinist ideology of the velayat-e faqih1. Even Saudi Arabia, while engaged in a difficult internal transition and the war in Yemen, called from Washington to the Iraqi table, is considering the reopening of an oil pipeline, closed in 1990, which connects Iraq to the Red Sea plus a gas pipeline build for the Jordan port of Aqaba.

Reluctant powers and business

The US, meanwhile, strengthen their military presence between Syria and Iraq, an element that leads us to believe that Americans, beyond the presidential tweets, consider it essential to remain straddling the two countries, also given the large trade delegations participating in the latest forums economic-commercial interested in the reconstruction.

Meanwhile, along the road that connects Al Qaim with the plain of Nineveh, in an area with low population density but notoriously fertile as for the setting up of insurrectional cells, a new US base has arisen; all this while observation towers are set up along the Syrian-Turkish border in order to protect the eastern Syrian area administered by the PKK. American Syrian-Iraqi politics aspire to pragmatism in a chaotic setting that undermines the goodness of the confused intentions: it coordinates with the Iraqis, in turn coordinated with the Russians, Iranians and the Syrian government; provides guarantees to the Turks while apparently protecting the Syrian PKK; implant bases in western Iraq; fortifies economic and energy cooperation with the government of Baghdad; search for "replay"With Russia, mistress of the central and western Syrian coast; aim for a coherent strategy that supports Iraqi territorial integrity and protects the regional government of Kurdistan; announces the withdrawal from Syria proposing itself as a potential maker of a strategic mistake already committed by Obama, responsible for an early withdrawal before there was a government able to fill the gap created, which would benefit Iran, Syria, Russia, Hezbollah and ISIS.

This is the background of the area, strongly interconnected with all the parties involved; these are the main questions that will dominate the Middle Eastern scene and of which we will not see the end in the 2019. In the 2018 the Middle East was one of the most unstable theaters in the world: probably it will remain in the 2019, despite the "reflections of God".

1Government of Jurisconsult

(photo: US Army / US Marine Corps / US Air Force)