Events in Iraq offer the latest example of two important processes seen
elsewhere in the Arab world. The first is the phenomenon of relatively free and
fair elections, which then fail to have any effect on the real political and
security balance of power in the country in question.
The second is the
thorough penetration of Arab states and movements by non- Arab regional
Two examples from elsewhere: Hamas won Palestinian elections in
This proved the beginning rather than the conclusion of a
period of jostling for power which culminated in the mini civil war of 2007, and
the division of the Palestinian national movement into two rival
Each of the rivals is associated with one of the sides in the
larger regional cold war. The division currently looks durable and long
In Lebanon in March 2009, the pro-Western March 14 bloc proved
victorious in an electoral battle with the Hizbullah led March 8 bloc.
Unfortunately, Hizbullah declined to see in this any reason to concede any of
its exercising of de facto power in the country.
The result was political
paralysis for half a year as coalition negotiations proceeded. At their
conclusion, Hizbullah’s veto power and independent military and security
structures were untouched. The elections were thus nothing more than an
incidental event in the real process of power wielding and balancing in the
country. Hizbullah remains the final arbiter of power in Lebanon. It is of
course a creation and client of Iran.
Iraq has no government in sight
five months after elections. And again, outside powers are playing a key role in
exploiting this situation.
The Irakiya list of Iyad Allawi won the
largest number of seats in March, but has found it difficult to form a
coalition. The election failed to produce a clear winner primarily because the
Iraqi Shi’ites, the numerical majority in the country, failed to run as a single
Nuri al-Maliki’s determination to retain the post of prime minister
led him to run at the head of his own bloc – the State of Law party. Other
important Shi’ite streams and movements ran in the Iraqi National Alliance. This
list included the Sadrists and the pro-Iranian Badr organization.
result was that the split among the Shi’ites enabled Allawi, himself a secular
Shi’ite whose support rests largely among the Sunnis, to emerge as head of the
largest single list in parliament. This, however, did not mean that anyone else
felt obliged to award him the laurels of victor, and they have not done
As a result, a complex chess game has been taking place between
Allawi, Maliki, and various components of the INA. The powerful Kurdish parties
are watching from the sidelines. The process shows no sign of reaching
conclusion. The dispute is taking on increasingly bitter tones and an
increasingly sectarian coloration.
This is reflected in the regional
interests involving themselves in the standoff. Allawi heads a list supported
mainly by Sunnis and as a result is being backed by Saudi Arabia.
is also backing him. Ankara is keen to defend the Sunni interest, and in
particular to avoid any scenario which could lead to the breakup of Iraq and the
formation of a fully independent Kurdish state in present day northern
Iran, meanwhile, has thrown its weight behind Maliki, and is doing
its best to coax or coerce other Shi’ite factions into backing his bid to remain
in his position.
Last week, Maliki defended his retention of the
premiership in openly sectarian terms, saying that the position could only be
held by a Shi’ite.
IRAN IS NOT finding its task of herding the Shi’ite
factions behind Maliki easy, however.
Maliki’s high-handedness is deeply
resented by other Shi’ites, who refer to him as “little Saddam.” The various
factions are thus maintaining their own contacts with Allawi, and even with
According to a report in A-Sharq al-Awsat this week,
Teheran is currently increasing pressure on Muktada al-Sadr and on Ammar
al-Hakim, leader of the Shi’ite Iraqi National Coalition, to unite behind
Maliki. Neither has agreed to do so. Sadr has reportedly threatened to leave
Iran and take up residence in Lebanon rather than submit to Teheran’s
The picture is further complicated by the fact that the outside
forces backing the two sides do not conform exactly to the familiar contours of
the regional cold war. Syria, while aligned with Iran on the regional level, is
backing Allawi in Iraq.
Behind all the political wrangling and
dysfunction is the specter of something worse.
Violence is currently
increasing, though not yet to the levels of earlier years. Shi’ite pilgrims have
been targeted for attack; 59 people died in an attack on an army recruitment
center last week. Insurgent forces are keen to exploit the vacuum caused by the
What all this adds up to is mess and confusion, rather
than disaster, at the present time.
No single regional or local force has
yet emerged as the victor. A powerful, Iranaligned Iraq looks as distant as a
resurgent Baghdad aligned with Iran’s enemies.
Rather, the emerging
picture in post-US Iraq is one of simmering potential civil war and deep
political and sectarian division, punctuated every so often by democratic
elections of limited meaning, and beset by rival meddling regional powers. This
in turn is the local variant of a similar malaise affecting other parts of the
Baghdad was once one of the most powerful Arab capitals. The
country today is at political stalemate, unable to defend itself from external
interference. Of the states doing the interfering, meanwhile – Turkey, Iran,
Syria and Saudi Arabia – two are non- Arab. All this is the latest testimony to
the current extreme strategic and political weakness of the Arab world. It is
also further evidence of the emergence of three non-Arab states as the region’s
strongest powers – namely Iran, Turkey and, of course, Israel.
is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs