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Opinion: Returning to the Struggle Over Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The main objective of battles in the region during the years following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime is Iraq, the strategic country which lies in the middle of the paths where Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey intersect regionally. It is also a global oil reservoir similar to Saudi Arabia.

Washington used to consider Iraq as the country that it was most concerned with extending its influence to after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hastened this process. A few months before the invasion of Kuwait, he announced that there was a vacuum in the region as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and that one of the powers in the region must fill it. Saddam’s analysis was correct but he made a mistake in calculating who was qualified for this role and what the limits of this activity were.

Accordingly, he invaded Kuwait and this reflected his simple understanding of international relations and major interests in the region. Kuwait is an important country and has ten per cent of the world’s oil reserves. The world would not leave it under Saddam’s rule and allow him to threaten Saudi Arabia’s security from it.

Saddam was defeated and then besieged for twelve years. Due to his refusal to deal with the reality around him and the failure of the blockade, changing the regime in Baghdad became a goal regardless of the excuses made. The Americans succeeded in changing the regime in Iraq and failed to manage it and the crises there. Then, Barack Obama’s administration came to power and it adopted a different and revolutionary vision; cooperating with Iran, the enemy, in Iraq and the region in order to solidify US interests and to achieve stability. Now, the Obama administration recognises that Iran used the nuclear deal and US flexibility to threaten not only the security of the region, but also the interests of the US itself.

This short review is necessary to understand the complex Iraqi subject as the conflict in Syria is in fact based on the conflict in Iraq and attempts to dominate it. Countries in the region including the Gulf countries and Turkey have tried to prevent Iranian expansionism but they have failed so far. The war continues in Syria and the conflict in Iraq has still not stopped.

The Russians have tried to infiltrate Iraq through oil and military deals, something that will not last long on the grounds that the United States believes that Iraq, more than Syria, is an important country for its interests in the region. It is likely that Iraq will be the focus of the next US political, economic and perhaps military battle.

The Republican Party’s presidential victory in America and its control over the majority of both houses of Congress is likely to bring attention back to Iraq on many issues. The first of such issues is counteracting Iran’s growing influence on governance in Baghdad caused by the US withdrawal that took place under Obama. The second is the troubled state of governance which was caused by ethnic and sectarian conflict, and the third issue is addressing regional relations linked to Iraq as a result of its strategic location which I mentioned at the beginning. All of this harms US and western interests in general with regards to enhancing regional security, fighting terrorism and confronting the Kremlin’s ambitions in key areas of the world.

Will the expected US interest in Iraq increase tensions and possibly worsen military conflicts? Perhaps, unless Iran accepts the fact that it will not be allowed to expand and dominate Iraq and the Gulf, and unless the president-elect’s administration shows its determination to confront Iran. Amongst Trump’s new leaders, there are those who believe unequivocally that the regime in Tehran is the source of the crises and wars in the region including those in Afghanistan, Pakistan and of course the Gulf, since the early eighties until today, and that it is more dangerous than the North Korean regime. It is likely that Iraq will be the test for the Trump administration’s seriousness when it comes to dealing with Iran.

This does not mean that the American administration will have to intervene militarily in a direct manner. There are many powers that oppose Iran in Iraq and they include Shiite powers or those allied to Washington such as the Kurds. It is possible to resist Iranian interference by working through the political system which the Americans built in the wake of the invasion, and without having to establish opposing armed groups.

What about the project to divide that has been increasingly discussed recently? I cannot imagine that this is a proposed option because Iraq is still intact despite its crises and it has not descended into the abyss of civil war. All the surrounding countries in the region including Iran, Turkey and the Gulf countries may differ politically on Iraq but they all agree on its geographic unity because they know that dividing a huge country is a dangerous thing to do. Regional and international powers will have to compete by working through the political system in Baghdad and decreasing Iran’s control over it.