Patrick Cockburn: Do Rice and Straw realise that Iraq has broken up?

There is something absurd about calling for a 'strong leader' to unite Iraqis

Share

"The Americans and British only seem to take on board changes on the ground in Iraq six months after they have happened," a senior Iraqi official lamented to me at the weekend. Within hours Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw were in Baghdad on a surprise visit which instantly confirmed the extent to which they are out of touch with Iraqi reality.

The US and Britain are calling for a national unity government. It may be that they will even succeed in displacing Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister, by a candidate more to their liking. But a new Iraqi administration, whoever the leader, will be neither national, united nor even much of a government.

Iraq has effectively broken up. Its administration has little influence beyond the Green Zone. In the greater Baghdad area, with a population of over six million, civil war has already begun. The US military say 1,313 people were killed in sectarian murders in March. This is just the dead bodies, often bearing marks of torture, which have been discovered. The real figure for Shia and Sunni Arabs killed by each other is probably running at over 100 every day. This may exceed the daily death rate in the first months of either the English or American civil wars.

There is something absurd about Condoleezza Rice calling for a "strong leader" capable of uniting Iraqis. There is no longer an Iraqi state to be led. The primary allegiance of the army and police is to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to their own government. Most of Iraq is dominated by a single ethnic or religious group, but in Baghdad Sunni and Shia are mixed together. The battle between them for control of the capital has already started.

There are signs of this struggle everywhere. The price of an AK-47 assault rifle has jumped from $112 to $290 in the last month. "You have to have a state with a monopoly of power," said Ms Rice, demanding "a reining in of militias". But the movement is all the other way. The militias are growing in power because Shia and Sunni both want armed men they can trust from their own communities to defend their district.

Baghdad, more and more, resembles Beirut at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. One Kurdish government official told me that a Shia member of his staff had been worried because he was frightened that his family was in danger from Sunni attack. Recently he turned up at the office in the Green Zone looking much more relaxed, saying that "everything is OK and my family is safe because the Mehdi Army [militia] has taken over my district".

It is unlikely that sectarian cleansing by Sunni or Shia can be reversed at this stage. Sometimes the minority moves out peacefully, knowing that it dare not stand and fight. An Iraqi army captain from Diyala province, north-east of Baghdad, told me: "Where you get the worst violence is where the Shia and Sunni are present in about the same numbers so they can fight for control."

It is possible that the visit by Ms Rice and Mr Straw will help to get rid of Ibrahim al-Jaafari as Prime Minister but his departure will have limited impact on the crisis facing Iraqis. He failed as a leader of Iraq, but then so did his two predecessors, Iyad Allawi and Paul Bremer, the US envoy. His successor will also find himself a prisoner of the Green Zone presiding over a disintegrating and increasingly irrelevant state machine.

It is misleading of Mr Straw to claim that the US and Britain regard the choice of Iraqi Prime Minister as "a matter of sovereign decisions by the sovereign parliament" of Iraq. Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein the US has sought to dilute the power of the Shia despite the fact that they are 60 per cent of the Iraqi population and the Sunni and Kurds each 20 per cent. The Shia leaders suspect that the US and Britain backed by the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East want to rob them of their election victory on 15 December last year by forcing them into an unrepresentative coalition.

The current government is a Shia-Kurdish alliance. The US wants the Sunni parties and Iyad Allawi, the ex-prime minister and long a favourite of the American and British intelligence services, to join it. Washington is suspicious of Mr Jaafari because he is supported by Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist cleric, and Iran. It also wants to see if it can break up the coalition of Shia religious parties. It is not likely to succeed in the long term and attempts to weaken the Shia will, on the contrary, force them to rely on their own powerful militias and drive them into the arms of Iran.

Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq will be published in October

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone