23
May

No, America hasn’t “lost” Iraq. But a dangerous realpolitik is the new normal in Baghdad.

BY RAMZY MARDINI

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Makes Surprise Visit

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in March on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there was little doubt that he would raise the issue of Iranian flyovers to Syria, which the United States suspects are being used to funnel weapons to the Syrian regime. Convinced that external support gives Syrian President Bashar al-Assad false confidence that he can prevail over rebel forces, Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly tried — and failed — to persuade Maliki to deny Iran Iraqi airspace. (In exchange for halting the flights, Kerry offered Iraq a role in any international negotiations about a post-Assad Syria.)

The Iraqi prime minister’s apparent intransigence has lent credence to the idea that the United States has somehow “lost” Iraq. A more accurate characterization would be that, following the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011, Iraq is simply reasserting its regional role — bridging external realities with internal interests.

The new Iraq is no longer just an observer or victim of the whims of regional gamesmanship; it is now a player in that game. But as the recent surge in sectarian violence has demonstrated, domestic concerns are never far from the surface — and they bear directly on the country’s foreign-policy calculus.

In April, deadly clashes between government forces and demonstrators in the Sunni city of Hawija set off a chain reaction of retaliatory attacks across Iraq that threaten to plunge the country into the kind of sectarian war it experienced between 2005 and 2007. The month of April was the deadliest since June 2008, with 712 Iraqis killed, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Just this past week, more than 200 people were killed, as Shitte and Sunni neighborhoods and places of worship were targeted in a cycle of sectarian violence reminiscent of the civil war period. Today, the scenario of two, adjacent civil wars along sectarian lines is becoming a growing reality. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on May 20, 2013.

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