This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 11/05/2011
Renewing for American forces to stay longer in Iraq is rather political, not security issue. Iraqi security forces have almost reached a million persons, between police, army, security personnel and guards, and they must be able to protect the security of Iraq and even neighbouring countries, especially after the huge amounts of money spent on their training and preparations since the end of the (official) US occupation of Iraq on 28th June 2004. The debate that is going on now among political parties in Iraq on the possibility of renewing the presence of these forces for ‘security necessity’ and under the pretext that Iraqi forces are ‘not ready’ to take charge of security in the country, is not serious, because the problem is not really the non-readiness of Iraqi security forces to manage the security of the country (despite its dereliction of duty and inability in this connection, especially with the recent rise of assassinations in the country through silent guns. Rather, it is the non-readiness of political forces to cohabit with each other and live according to law and the principles of democratic competition. Most of these parties, especially those currently in power, have not yet developed the ability to respect each other and abide by the results of the elections and democratic rules and norms of competition. On the contrary, every one is watching the other closely, and hopping to seize the opportunity to attack it, weaken it or even eliminate it altogether. Everyone who has managed to get a position stayed in it, and sought to enhance it and expand outside it at the expense of others.
It’s true that Iraqi security forces are performing below ambition, but the reason for this underperformance is political wrangling and the fact that these forces were formed on political, rather than professional, basis. They will not benefit from a continuous American presence if current political infighting continues. The issue, then, is purely political. All parties, except the Sadrist Trend, want the Americans to continue their military presence in Iraq ― not to support the Iraqi security forces as they claim, since Americans have hardly participated in security operations since 2008, but for the sake of keeping order and security, which will deteriorate at the hands of Iraq political parties themselves, most of which have militias, armed protection groups or loyal groups in the police or military.
With the need for American forces to stay in Iraq as guarantors against the strong crushing the weak, Iraqi parties avoid appearing to wish for renewal of the American presence, as there is a political cost to this. But all know well enough that they need these forces as referee between warring foes. When Iraqi political groups look at their future after the departure of the Americans, they see it at best as ambiguous; many see it as shaky and under threat.
The strongest political group in Iraq is the one led by Prime Minister Noori Al Maliki, who has held state assets in a strong fist for the last five years. He has taken advantage of his position as PM to enhance his political reach and security powers, and marginalize his opponents. He has also used it to appoint his supporters and followers to sensitive positions in the state. Despite all that, he still needs a longer period of time to strengthen his hold on power, and gain more ability to expand ― at the expense of others of course. Mr Maliki still fears other political forces that he has worked hard to marginalize and weaken ever since he came to power. He fears that these parties might have plans to expand and limit his influence, or local or international alliances that may help them to weaken his political and military abilities, or even remove him from power ― even if that was done through political means.
He also fears the popularity of some of his opponents which they gained through the failure of his government to provide basic services, security, and jobs, while failing also to stamp out corruption and terrorism. If his rule comes under threat after the Americans leave, then he will have to seek help from the US again, and look very weak. He will lose his popular base and political credibility. Iraq will also be weakened regionally and internationally for a long time to come. The safest for Maliki is for part of the US military to stay in Iraq for the time being. The political position for other political partiers won’t look a lot different from Maliki’s, even though they are weaker than him because they are either out of power or marginalized within it. Other parties also need US forces in order to form a sort of guarantee against efforts of weakening or even liquidation by their stronger opponents. The difficulty now lies in wait for him of selling to the public this extension of US forces’ presence, and persuading the Sadrist Trend ― the current partner in the government, which opposes strongly any extension.
The approval of any extension for American forces in Iraq will almost certainly cause trouble between the Sadrist Trend and the Maliki government and this will land the country in a new security and political crisis. But this may not necessarily happen, as the Sadris have also gained political skills over the last few years, and may not be prepared to relinquish all the many gains they acquired through participating in government ― especially when they know that they won’t be able to prevent it in parliament if other political parties have decided for it.
Iraqi political forces need to be open with the people of Iraq in all these matters. They need to avoid being evasive. They also need to renounce extreme rhetoric, which they have been brought up to believe is right and normal. Such rhetoric is no longer suitable in this day and age. This era depends on building good and fruitful international relations. Relations with the US and other strong countries are now necessary for any developing or developed country, and they are actually an achievement for any government that manages to cement and develop them. Anti-Americanism is not in the interests of anyone except extreme religious groups which still live in the past, and want Iraq to remain outside the modern order. The future is for realism and openness to the world, interacting with all its activities and products. Extreme ideological rhetoric will lead those who resort to it into the political wilderness.
Cementing ties with the US is in the interest of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi state, which will become stronger for it. Others who now try to meddle in its internal affairs would think twice if Iraq had strong relations with the US. Jeopardising Iraq’s relations with the US is a folly that everyone must avoid. The real democrat and patriot is the one who seeks to enhance his country’s political and economic relations with democratic countries, not the one who sticks to an out-dated rhetoric that is bereft of any meaningful content. He who adopts it can only expect to be weakened and, eventually, to come to real harm.