Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iraq: The Battle for Influence Begins | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama announced that by the end of August 2010, the war in Iraq will draw to a close. US combat troops will withdraw before that date whilst special training forces will remain in Iraq. This signifies that Iraq can expect another battle; a battle for influence.

America’s exit from Baghdad means that there will be some kind of power vacuum. Therefore, a force must come to fill this vacuum and the danger here lies in the absence of strong Iraqi authorities.

Iraq suffers from a lack of powerful, independent central authorities, just as the magnitude of distrust amongst Iraqis towards one another does not allow for the formation of a strong central government as the country’s backbone. There are those who accuse Iraqi President Nuri al Maliki of aspiring to be another Saddam Hussein and there are also disputes among the Kurds about Maliki and others. We are still waiting for the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections which will reveal the political map of the country.

Therefore, the main concern today is that Iran, Syria or Turkey will fill the vacuum that will be left behind after the withdrawal of American combat troops. Iraqi MP Osama al Najafi rationally warned against this vacuum saying that it “will either be filled by the Iraqis if they are able to achieve national reconciliation and build an institutional state and a professional army that pledges allegiance to the nation state…” or “if the Iraqis do not achieve national unity and real reconciliation and address the unresolved issues of the constitution, refugees, Kirkuk, and the matter of sectarian and ethnic blocs, then I believe that Iran will fill the vacuum and Iraq will fall victim to international ambitions and misuses of power.”

What is required is not to spur on other Arab countries to fill that vacuum but for the Iraqis to be cautious and attentive so that the American occupier does not withdraw from Iraq only for the country to be occupied by another. Iraq is in desperate need of reconciliation that will bring together its people of various sects and ethnicities.

The American president, after having made the announcement of the region’s new era, said that Washington cannot solve all of Iraq’s problems or police its streets. President Obama said, “We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries.” This is true; if people want Iraq to be a democratic state then it is inevitable that there will be those who want to have excellent ties with the United States and those who do not. However, above anything else, Washington and effective Arab countries must strive to consolidate national reconciliation.

To the Iraqis, the threat of division is serious and it will pave the way for gaining power through a foreign party, just like what is happening in Lebanon. Therefore, there must be more European, American and Arab communication with Iraq on all levels so that Baghdad will have choices other than Iran. Moreover, the Iraqis, Americans and Arabs must pay attention to the danger of the imminent period; it will be equivalent to a battle for the sake of influence and filling the power vacuum in Iraq. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult and ugly battle.