The Forgotten Stability in Iraq
The recent upsurge in violence in Iraq to levels even unacceptable to Iraqis, who have by now become accustomed to occasional bombings and killings, indicates that feelings of security and political stability are still a long away for Iraqi people. A series of suicide attacks and shootings across Iraq preceding the provincial elections on April 20, and ensuing tension in Hawijah, a Sunni town near the city of Kirkuk, escalated the clashes inside the country to a new level. Although the Iraqi people by now have become used to living under prevailing conditions of insecurity, the latest crisis transformed the existing sectarian tensions into an armed conflict. The attack of the Iraqi Army with helicopters on April 23 on a Sunni protesting group in Hawijah, where they were after hiding militants, suspected of killing an Iraqi soldier several days ago, spread the tension to different provinces. The Sunni protestors stepped up their demonstrations and attacks against the Shi’a dominated government after the disproportional use of force by the Army. Till today, around 200 people have been killed and many more wounded during the clashes between the security forces and the Sunni groups.
The political atmosphere has remained volatile in Iraq since the withdrawal of the US troops in December 2011. The sectarian divergence between Sunnis and Shi’ites, as well as the confrontation between the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government, has been creating insoluble problems for the tattered Iraqi government. The policies of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, especially vis-à-vis the Sunnis, have marginalized and distanced them from the central government, deepening the gap between Sunnis and Shi’ites. In a latest move, the government suspended the licenses of 10 satellite channels, including Al-Jazeera, to broadcast in Iraq, on charges that “they were promoting sectarianism”. Perhaps it was not surprising to see that most of the owners or the operators of the channels were Sunnis. Such policies create doubts about Maliki’s intentions.
Even before the recent clashes between Sunni groups and the government, the Kurdish officials announced that they were deploying Kurdish forces to the problematic regions, including Kirkuk, to fill the security vacuum and prevent violence. The move was seen as a challenge and threat by the central government. Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, saw it simply as a move by the Kurds to grab the oil fields of Kirkuk, control of the vast resources of which is absolutely necessary for a possible declaration of independence by them.
The provincial elections were both a stability test for the country and a confidence test for the Maliki government, as it was the first election after the US withdrawal. As a result of several suicide attacks and the assassinations of some candidates, the elections were only conducted in 12 out of 18 provinces. It was postponed in six provinces due to security reasons. The power struggle before and during the elections destabilized the country and pushed it to the edge of the “unknown,” as put by Martin Kobler, the UN Representative to Iraq.
It is clear that the current crisis cannot be solved and the volatility of the country cannot be ended until after the various groups sort out their ongoing power struggles. Clearly the sectarian policy choices of the Maliki government are not helping.
Involvement of outsiders from the region with a sectarian mindset complicates the situation further. The American invasion had freed forces that would eventually prove to be detrimental for the unity of the country, and the subsequent American withdrawal created a power vacuum that could not be filled. As there seems to be no end to the current struggle, the people of Iraq continue to suffer.