A Necessary and Valuable Partnership for the U.S. with Iraq's Maliki Government |
Al Hayat - 05 August, 2012
Author: Joyce Karam
Even as tension rises between the Governments of Iraq and Turkey over Ankara's relations with the Kurdish leadership in the North, Washington still sees its partnership with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki as a necessary and valuable one. Integrating Iraq into the region, maximizing its economic and institutional potential, as well as containing the blow-back of the Syrian crisis are some of the goals that define this partnership today.
For the US, Maliki is both a "valuable and a necessary partner" according to Daniel Serwer, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Serwer tells Al-Hayat that Maliki's success in holding power in Baghdad makes him a strategic "necessity" for Washington, whose interest is in sustaining a good relationship with Iraq, "a key country in the Middle East, and one that is increasing its oil exports rapidly."
Maliki's opponents, mainly a coalition of the leader of the regional administration in north of Iraq Massoud Barzani, the head of the Sadrist Movement Moqtada Sadr and the leader of the Iraqia bloc party Ayyad Allawi, have failed recently in garnering enough "no confidence votes" from the Parliament to bring him down. Serwer argues that Maliki has indeed "outmaneuvered his political opponents, who seem unable to win a confidence vote in the parliament and more so, unable to construct an alternative majority."
Al-Hayat has learned that the Obama administration communicated to Baghdad that the vote is a valid and democratic tool, and interpreted it as an eye opener for the Prime Minister himself to realize that he has some work to do within his coalition and in governance. Maliki, who is known to be a workaholic, is seen by his opponents as attempting to monopolize power and expand his security reach.
For the US, however, a pragmatic approach focused on institutional building in Iraq and political openness to most of the players, defines the relation with Baghdad today. Washington has encouraged Barzani who visited in April to reengage with the central government in addressing key issues related to the oil law and resuming refinery activity to Turkey. Barzani is a longtime friend of the US, and a kingmaker in Iraqi politics. His improved relations with Turkey were clearly manifested this week during a visit by Ankara's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotuglu to Northern Iraq, while ignoring the central government in Baghdad. Serwer sees in Ankara's rapprochement with the Iraqi Kurds a "natural" development, "so long as Kurdistan is willing to cooperate with Turkey against the "The Kurdistan Workers' Party" (PKK)."
Another reason behind Turkey's reorientation is the economic opportunity that Kurdistan represents with its oil wealth and investment opportunities. Towards that end, Serwer sees that the Maliki Government has a choice: "it can resist the development of close Turkey/Kurdistan relations, or it can jump on that bandwagon and enhance its own relations with Ankara."
Regional Integration and Syria
Regional integration is another goal that guides the US strategy in Iraq. The recent improvement in diplomatic and economic relations between Iraq and its former foe Kuwait, along with holding security training excercises with Jordan, as well as Saudi designating a "non-resident" Ambassador to Baghdad, are all efforts welcomed by the Obama administration. Serwer has doubts about Arab States fully overcoming their trust deficit with Maliki and becoming "completely comfortable" with him. Many see the Prime Minister as sectarian driven and too close to Iran. They point to his positions on Syria as indicative of this sentiment. Maliki has not renounced Syrian President Bashar Assad and along with Lebanon, has abstained from the Arab League's sanctions vote on Damascus.
Al-Hayat has learned however, that the Iraqi government now shares the US perspective that Assad is doomed and his collapse is inevitable. Iraq had not invited to Damascus to the last Arab League summit that it chairs for this term. Anxiety over the post-Assad period rather than Iran is the main drive for Iraqi calculations today, according to information that Al-Hayat obtained. The fear of a rise of an extremist Sunni government on Iraq's border, along with possible resurgence of Al-Qaeda along the porous border between the two, contributes to Baghdad's fears.
For now, the US priority is in building institutional structures of the Iraqi state, and boosting its oil production, and the defense potential. Iraq will receive more than twenty F-16 fighter jets it has ordered from the United States at the beginning of 2014. Serwer sees the path of the oil exports routes as "the most important factor in Iraq's international alignment." Essentially, "if Iraq's oil continues to be exported through the Gulf within range of Iranian guns, Tehran will have enormous influence in Iraq" and "if the Iraqis wisely begin to diversify and export more oil to the North and the West via pipelines that will have to be built in the future, then Iraq will be tied more tightly to the West."