President Obama is welcoming the new Iraqi government and praising its supposedly all-inclusive nature. Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius notes that the deal that ratified the new Iraqi balance of power was sealed in a meeting involving the US ambassador and the three main Iraqi players. And even neoconservatives, such as Max Boot in Commentary, are chortling that Iraq is stable. During a phone briefing yesterday, on background, US government officials portrayed the accord in Baghdad as a triumph of American diplomacy and post-occupation interventionism. “We tried to be as helpful as we could,” one official said. “We’ve had conversations, many of us, exploring all options.” And the resulting accord, fragil;e and volatile, “was one of them.”
Don’t believe it for a second.
Seven and a half years after the US invasion of Iraq toppled its legitimate government and destroyed the Iraqi state, American influence in Iraq is dropping like a stone. The resulting mix of Iraqi politics might fairly be characterized as 40 percent Iraqi nationalism, 40 percent Iranian influence, and 20 percent American influence. The latter component, American influence, will continue to fall as US forces leave Iraq next year.
Nothing reveals the impotence of American influence in Iraq more than the fact the both President Obama and Vice President Biden personally called Kurdish leaders, including Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, asking if Talabani would relinquish the presidency of Iraq in favor of Iyad Allawi. (Talabani, leader of a minority Kurdish party that is very close to Iran, is a sickly and aging politician allied to Barzani’s larger Kurdish bloc. Allawi, a secular Shiite, has strong support among Iraqi Sunnis, nationalists, former and current Baathists, and ex-military men.) Both Barzani and Talabani flatly rejected Obama’s and Biden’s pleas, and Talabani’s son, Qubad, who represents the Kurds in Washington, told the Washington Times: “The Americans have come to us and have asked us to step aside and to relinquish the post of president to [Allawi’s] Iraqiya, specifically to Iyad Allawi, which we find disappointing.” Talabani added that the United States was “not respectful of Iraq’s parliamentary system” and he expressed concern “that the United States will once again betray us.”
The government that may or may not emerge once the dust settles will restore Prime Minister Maliki, an Iran-influenced strongman from the secretive, Islamic fundamentalist Dawa party, to his job for four more years. It will install Talabani as president once again, though he may not last four years because of ill health. And it will put an Iraqiya member, Osama Nujaifi, in the post of parliamentary speaker, a consolation prize that rankles many Sunnis and ex-Baathists. In the last Iraqi government, too, the speaker’s post was reserved for a Sunni, but Maliki and his Shiite allies were so high-handed in the way they dealt with parliament that Sunni speakers were wont to quit and walk out. In effect, the new government is an exact copy of the last one. And that upsets millions of Iraqis who voted for Allawi’s Iraqiya, which won the most votes in the March 7 election.