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Let’s Remember Iraq – Analysis

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By Zeynep Kösereisoğlu

It is true that there is a lot going on in the Middle East today. Syria is experiencing a de facto civil war, Libya has just been through its first democratic elections, the power struggle between the old and the new forces in Egypt’s political scene are more visible than ever. In the midst of all that is urgent and current, it seems as though we are forgetting Iraq. This is the natural pattern of news reporting; focus on the new, on the newer. Thus we start to lose focus on the old. The situation of the Iraqi people might have become “old”, there may not have been a recent blast killing the “highest” number of civilians this year or a political crisis worthy of headlines (except maybe that of Tariq al-Hashimi), the American troops might have left the country. However, the Iraqis keep on living the heritage of the American invasion.

Fuad al-Takarli, a famous Iraqi author once wrote; “Inside some people – not everyone – there is a store of contentment and satisfaction which can overflow and in time make the pressures and bitterness of life bearable. This abundance of contentment transforms the curse of poverty into an acceptable situation, and deprivation into something that can be changed or forgotten.” The history of Iraq has challenged its people to dig deeper in this store of contentment, forcing them to bear the fruits of instability caused by dictatorship and continuous wars; the latest one being the 2003 invasion by USA. The invasion ended with the pulling out of American troops in late 2011. However, for the Iraqis the real challenge of dealing with the invasion began then. So, while the Iraqis are battling on a daily basis with the most basic problems, it is maybe time for an update on the situation there.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein, the problem of sectarianism has surfaced in Iraq, challenging the country’s unity in every aspect. Currently it is the Kurdish regions of Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaymaniyyeh that are autonomous. There is also the land that falls between the Kurdish and the Sunni regions that are disputed in terms of autonomy and under which governorship they fall. The presence of oil and to whom its profits belong is an important factor in the continuing discussions about the state of Kirkuk. The same goes for Basra. Due to the Shia’s rise to power in Iraq, the Shia regions have been the least vocal about separating from the central government. However, Basra has also been considering autonomy in order to prevent having to share its oil earnings with the rest of the country. And most recently it has been the Sunnis of the al-Anbar region [1] that have been pushing for more autonomy, claiming that the current Shia government is ignoring their needs and discriminating against them in the most basic fields such as education. [2]

The tensions on the ground between the different sects are also reflected in the higher levels of the Iraqi government. In the December of 2011, the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had not only called for a no-confidence vote for Salah al-Mutlaq, the deputy PM but also issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of being implicated in the preparations for an alleged bomb attack on the PM himself. Tariq al-Hashimi, had refused to be tried by the Iraqi courts, blaming them of being biased. In order to escape the arrest warrant, he first went to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. This not only demonstrated the disagreements between two regions of Iraq (that of the Shiite dominated central government and the Kurdish region) but also the central governments’ inability to enforce a security related issue in one of its regions. Tariq al-Hashimi arrived in Turkey after visiting Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and has been in Istanbul receiving medical treatment. The warrant itself and the continuous efforts to bring him in– even including Interpol [3] –, has highlighted sectarian issues. In Hashimi’s words; “People understand that this is sectarian targeting and regardless of a political motivated case.” [4]

Iraq
Iraq

Nevertheless, the internal disputes between the Shia, Sunni and the Kurds have also impacted Iraq’s relations with its neighbors. Firstly, the presence of al-Hashimi has driven the Shia rulers of Iraq to suspect Turkey’s position regarding the internal developments in Iraq. The suspicions of a Sunni alliance behind al-Hashimi’s good relations with the Turkish government further highlighted the sectarian factor around the issue. Moreover, Turkey’s willingness to receive oil from the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq despite the warnings that such exports were illegal have also increased the problems between the two countries. [5] Turkey’s continuing raids into northern Iraq against the PKK strongholds have been the last straw that broke the close ties between the two countries, [6] leading to Iraq’s closure of its airspace to Turkish planes. The deteriorating relations between Turkey and Iraq pose a problem for cooperation on oil transactions and trade relations. However, more broadly, reflect the central government’s current inability to control its airspace, to determine a permanent sphere of power and jurisdiction for its Kurdish region and cleanse its politics of sectarian strife.

Details aside, lurking behind every political crisis is of course oil. With 112 billion barrels, Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, only after Saudi Arabia. After the invasion, the companies operating at the numerous oil fields are very diverse, mostly foreign. Real independence and development comes with being able to use the natural resources a country has, with efficiency and for the benefit of its people. However, out of the 7 working oil fields, solely Iraqis operate in only Kirkuk and East Baghdad, with the Iraqi Drilling Company, North Petroleum and North Oil Company. In Rumailia the Iraqi South Oil Company operates with China National Petroleum and BP. The rest of the oil fields are now all operated by foreign companies ranging from the Russian Lukoil to the Malaysian Petronas, and including all the famous Western companies. [7]

What is more, the reconstruction efforts are also being dominated by foreign businesses. The new regime in Iraq is very eager to draw foreign investment into Iraq, and lend the responsibility of rebuilding the country to foreigners. Iraq is silently being sucked into the void of neo-liberalism; it is becoming the epitome of how development requires capitalism, how “free people” means “free market” and how democracy arrives with foreign direct investment. In the meantime, the fragile infrastructure and the volatile political situation are ignored. Quite the opposite; the rising foreign investment in Iraq is portrayed as a sign of stability and security, a sign of eventual American success. [8] Iraq is viewed just like another state and the western model is plastered on it; relieving the state of its responsibility to provide directly and immediately for its people. [9]

And there is much to provide. Earlier this year the unemployment rate has fallen to 16%, however – believe it or not- jobs aren’t the first thing this country needs. It is even the more basic needs that Iraq is lacking. With no electricity and water, it is difficult to provide jobs. Having the money to pay for your water and electricity bill doesn’t matter if your house is receiving electricity only half the day (which is half of the country), or if your house isn’t connected to the water supply grid (25% of the houses in Baghdad aren’t, you imagine the rest). [10]

So, in the midst of this chaos, what shall be done?

1. The Shiite dominated government must go out of its way to prove to the rest of the Iraqis that they aren’t being marginalized.

2. The state must form concrete laws and regulations about energy production and distribution to end the disputes in both the Kurdish region and in the oil rich south.

3. Baghdad’s position about federalism and autonomous regions must be made clear. This might be for the better or the worse, but the Iraqis must move beyond such political disputes and on to more economic concerns.

4. If deals are made with foreign companies, the priority shall be clean water and electricity provision, [11] and rather than focusing only in the capital, they should expand throughout the entire country.

5. And the government shall reserve a good portion of its expenditures to the implementation of the rule of law, whether it be ensuring the security of towns or increasing the number of regional courts and improving the efficiency of the trials. Trust in the rule of law is the foundations of a stable and democratic society.

Only, after all this, will the Iraqis have the time and energy to focus on democracy-related issues such as the freedoms of women, homosexuals, protection of children and religious liberties… The American invasion, rather than putting democratic issues on the agenda, has created numerous other problems that are prioritized over “democracy”. In the meantime “democracy” will have be content with being boxed into the rhetoric of elections…

Lastly, the Iraqis shall have patience. Because every project that they must undertake will bear fruits in the long term. There is no way of ensuring that Iran will not try to meddle with Iraqi politics, that Turkey will not start importing oil from the autonomous Kurdish region, that foreigners will not exploit their oil reserves. It is time for the Iraqis to tap into what al-Takarli calls the store of contentment; they can only be patient, work hard and hope that some good will come out of years of suffering.

References

[1] “Official, citizens for Anbar as autonomous region to end marginalization”, Iraqi News. Available at: [http://www.iraqinews.com/politics/officials-citizens-for-anbar-as-autonomous-region-to-end-marginalization/]

[2] “Iraqi Sunnis want autonomy amid discrimination”, Deutsche Welle. Available at: [http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15856137,00.html]

[3] “Iraq’s Tariq al-Hashimi faces Interpol arrest”, BBC News. Available at: [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17988571]

[4] “Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq’s Vice President: Iran behind Iraq’s sectarian strife”, Euronews. Available at: [http://www.euronews.com/2012/04/25/tariq-al-hashimi-iraqi-vice-president-iran-is-behind-sectarian-strife/]

[5] “Iraq warns Kurdish oil exports to Turkey harms ties”, Reuters Available at: [http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/15/us-iraq-oil-turkey-idUSBRE86E09O20120715]

[6] “Turkish planes stranded in Arbil as Irqa warns against violations”, Today’s Zaman. Available at: [http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=286762]

[7] “Western oil firms remain as US exits Iraq”, Al Jazeera English. Available at: [http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/12/2011122813134071641.html/]

[8] “Foreign businesses in Iraq quadruples in 2011”, USA Today. Available at: [http://www.usatoday.com/money/world/story/2011-12-28/foreign-business-quadruples-iraq-2011/52260544/1]

[9] “Shock and Awe: Nation Building: Iraq’s Neo-Liberal Reconstruction”, Jadaliyya. Available at: [http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5522/shock-and-awe-nation-building_iraqs-neo-liberal-re]

[10] “Iraq: Key Facts and Figures”, BBC News. Available at: [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11095920]

[11]“Hyundai Wins $396m Iraw Power Deals”, Iraq-Business News. Available at: [http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2011/11/25/hyundai-wins-396m-iraq-power-deals/]

JTW

JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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