Helping Iraq's Transition

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Dr. Mahmoud Vaezi
12 April 2009

 The U.S. invasion of Iraq has created new conditions for Iraq and the region. By adopting unrealistic strategies, the Bush administration without considering the ethnic-religious realities of the country dictated its policies in Iraq. These policies caused increased instability and insecurity, and resulted in paralyzing the function of the Iraqi state. Meanwhile, the unilateral approach adopted by the administration and its neglect of the role of influential countries in Iraq i.e. Iran and Syria, made Iraq's political, social, economic and security conditions more complicated such that in 2007 ethnic violence and insecurity escalated to the extent that America military attempt failed to bring stability in Iraq. The continuation of such situations caused extensive trouble and tension for Iran and some other regional countries such as the expansion of insecurity and instability to the neighboring countries, the probable disintegration of Iraq and its negative impacts on the region, and finally transforming Iraq into a base for Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

Under the pressure of American and world public opinion and after initially rejecting it, the Bush administration partially adopted the Baker-Hamilton Report. The intense violence across major Iraqi cities and the probable disintegration of the country forced the administration to change course. Two fundamental flaws of Bush's strategy, denying the need to have a regional diplomatic approach that engaged Iraq's neighbors and a more inclusive political agenda that incorporated key Iraqi political actors, were to some extent remedied by the Baker-Hamilton Report.

In the last two years, the Iraqi government, by increasing the power of Iraq’s security forces and with support of mainstream groups who have adopted more accommodationist approaches, has been able to weaken the extremist parties thereby reducing the sources of insecurity. As the security situation improved, the more moderate and mainstream Sunni groups distanced themselves from the extremist insurgency particularly Al-Qaeda. They thus were motivated to deal with the Iraqi government and pursue a power-sharing approach.

The Iraq-US Political-Security Agreement on the gradual exit of American military forces from Iraq which gives Iraqi officials more security responsibilities, if implemented appropriately, can be a step towards Iraq's independence and full sovereignty. In spite of the recent security improvements, Iraq’s security conditions are still fragile. Socially and politically, the Provincial Councils' election in January 2009 showed that the Iraqi people have become more determined in choosing their destiny through political. Sunni groups had particularly noticeable participation in this election. This political development means taking another step toward democracy. As far as Iraq's economy is concerned, the improved security environment has increased the oil income resulting in much needed economic reconstruction..

With these developments, the Obama administration needs to adopt a new strategy in Iraq. In this strategy, instead of using military forces, more emphasis should be put on political means and tactics. Getting the cooperation of the neighboring countries like Iran and Syria is also key in resolving the Iraq crisis. It may be early to talk about real change in America’s strategy in Iraq and the region, but appointing Dennis Ross as the special envoy of the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, Given his track record in the Middle East, is not a positive sign of change, unless America’s policies begin indications of change.

In his election campaign, Obama presented a 16-Month Exist Plan for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The administration intends to withdraw most of American forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010 and keep about 35,000 to 50,000 troops, for protection and training affairs. Moreover, in this plan, engagement with key regional countries like Syria and Iran has been taken into account. But many of American commanders have doubts on the readiness of Iraqi forces in handling independently Iraq’s security affairs. These commanders still emphasize on extended presence of American forces in Iraq. There are also some major problems in America’s interaction with Syria and Iran. America’s new administration should unambiguously chart a new course in securing regional actors' cooperation in Iraq’s political-security transition. This was a major flaw in such a framework.

Iraq is retrieving its sovereignty, the fact that makes a good opportunity for all countries of the region including Iran to treat Iraq as a new regional partner and friend. The people of Iran and Iraq have deep historical, ethnic and religious connections and commonalities. In the past, the Ba'athist regime and its anti-Iranian sentiments spoiled any possibility of establishing friendly relations between Iran and Iraq. The 8-Year imposed war was the result of such a situation. But Iraq's new structure of power, based on the Iraqi Constitution, will allow different Ethnic and religious to Participate and share power based on their demographic strength. To this end, Iran no longer assumes Iraq as a threat. Meanwhile, this situation increases the potential capacities of cooperation between the two countries politically, economically and strategically. In recent years, the economic, political and cultural cooperation of the two countries have improved, a sign of the genuine decision of the two nations to establish permanent and strategic relations.

Iran always wants an independent, united, prosperous and stable Iraq that has friendly relations with its neighbors. Up to now Iran has made a lot of efforts for supporting the Iraqi government. Creating stability and security has been one of Iraq's main problems. In spite of the current hostility in Iran-US relations, the Islamic Republic of Iran participated in three rounds of talks with America that unfortunately the Bush administration missed this opportunity. By the help of the influential neighbors, the new Iraq can achieve its goals faster. In such circumstances, if America and Iraq’s neighbors focus their policies on supporting Iraq’s government, in the future all involved parties will witness positive transformation in the region.