Spotlight on Geopolitics

Iraq’s power vacuum

More than six months since citizens voted in the country’s second parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still without a government. Although no political bloc had won an outright majority, the secular Shiite Al Iraqiya alliance won most seats, two more than the sectarian Shiite alliance headed by the current premier Nouri Al-Maliki (source: Washington Post). The political vacuum has led to a rise in the number of attacks and assassinations. With 500 people killed, the month of July was the most violent in Iraq in over two years (source: Le Monde).

In a September 1st interview in The Guardian, US vice-president Joe Biden stated that the political crisis in Iraq will be over soon and that a new coalition government, possibly headed by Ayad Allawi, will be sworn in. Meanwhile, president Barack Obama has officially declared the end of the Iraqi conflict and the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops. By the end of 2011, as president Obama promised, all the American officials and army will have left Iraq, with the exception of a few hundred military experts in charge of training and advising the Iraqi army.

To be sure, not all US or Iraqi officials agree with the withdrawal calendar. Thus, general Zebari has declared in August that “the politicians have to find the means of filling the security gap after 2011. If they would ask me the question, I would respond to the politicians that the American army should remain in the country until the Iraqi army would be ready to take over in 2020” (source: Le Monde, 14.08.2010).

Incidentally, 2020 is the year Pentagon intelligence officials consider as adequate for the Iraqi army to take over the defence of its own territory. The assessment has the backing of Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who did not exclude the possibility of American troops remaining in the country after 2011 “should the initiative come from the Iraqis”. Outgoing premier Al-Maliki did not rule out such a request after a new premier is sworn in.

The Allied military intervention in Iraq, however, and subsequent efforts to stabilise and democratise the country have been considered a failure by, among other officials, UK’s retiring Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup. Speaking before a Commons committee recently, he said “the proposition was that freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein and establishing proper democratic government would be a beacon for other countries throughout the region … It didn’t work. It was wrong. But that was the strategy.” (source: The Guardian). Our feelings exactly.

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