While everyone’s looking at Iraq’s effect on American politics — and whether or not John McCain and Barack Obama are converging on a policy that combines a flexible timetable with a vague, and long-lasting, residual force — let’s take a look instead at Iraqi politics. The picture isn’t pretty.
Despite the Optimism of the Neocons, which has pushed mainstream media coverage to be increasingly flowery about Iraq’s political progress, in fact the country is poised to explode. Even before the November election. And for McCain and Obama, the problem is that Iran has many of the cards in its hands. Depending on its choosing, between now and November Iran can help stabilize the war in Iraq — mostly by urging the Iraqi Shiites to behave themselves — or it can make things a lot more violent.
There are at least three flashpoints for an explosion, any or all of which could blow up over the next couple of months. (Way to go, Surgin’ Generals!) The first is the brewing crisis over Kirkuk, where the pushy Kurds are demanding control and Iraq’s Arabs are resisting. The second is in the west, and Anbar, where the US-backed Sons of Iraq sahwa (“Awakening”) movement is moving to take power against the Iraqi Islamic Party, a fundamentalist Sunni bloc. And third is the restive Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, which is chafing at gains made by its Iranian-backed rival, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).
Perhaps the issue of KIrkuk and the Kurds is most dangerous. Last week, the Kurds walked out of parliament to protest a law passed by parliament to govern the provincial elections. The law passed 127-13, but it was vetoed by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. Juan Cole, the astute observer, says : “The conflict between Kurds and Arabs over Kirkuk is a crisis waiting to happen.” He cites Al-Hayat, an Iraqi newspaper, as claiming that not only do the Kurds want to control Kirkuk, an oil-rich province in Iraq’s north, but they plan to annex three other provinces where Kurds live: Diyala, Salahuddin, and Ninewa. That’s not likely, but they do want Kirkuk, and the vetoed election law would have limited the Kurds’ ability to press their gains there.
The election law was supported by Sadr’s bloc and backed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his Iraq National List. Another nationalist party, the National Dialogue Council, has demanded the ouster of President Talabani over his veto of the law. Other Iraqi parties are backing the now-vetoed law, too, which also restricts the use of Islamic religious symbols by political parties seeking to corral illiterate, religious voters.