Iraqi-US negotiations enter final stages

By Patrick Cockburn
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:55

The Iraq of the future is beginning to take shape. The final stage of the negotiations for a US-Iraqi security accord marks a critical moment in the creation of the new Iraq because for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government is confident that it can survive without US military support.

It is quite a sudden development. The confidence stems from the success of the Iraqi army against the Shia militiamen of the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in fighting in Basra, Sadr City and Amara between March and May. The army has also been able to take the offensive in places like Mosul and northern Diyala where the Kurds were militarily predominant. The government can also draw on enormous oil revenues because of the increased price of oil.

The Iraqi government of the future is likely to be increasingly authoritarian in dealing with its opponents. It will be predominantly Shia, though with a powerful Kurdish component. The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to concentrate power on himself. The Shia coalition of religious parties will remain the main force in government. In many ways Iraq may come to resemble Putin’s Russia, flush with oil money, but with a government commanding support because so many of its citizens are desperate to escape the bloody anarchy of the last five years.

Outside Iraq the focus has always been on a total US withdrawal, but in practice the pull-out of US forces from the cities, towns and villages will mean a transfer of real power to the Iraqi state. The losers here will be the Sunni Arab minority, 20 per cent of the Iraqi population and its rulers down the century. Particularly in Baghdad they are dependent on US protection and may be vulnerable without it.

Already the government has started moving against al-Sahwa, the Awakening Movement, fostered and paid by the US to eliminate al Qa’ida in Iraq. It has drawn up a list of 650 al-Sahwa members to be arrested. The US military opposes the move but may not be able to defend its Sunni allies from a largely Shia government and army.

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