As the Obama Administration tries to hammer together an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the body count from his disastrous retreat from Iraq is swiftly rising. Last week alone there were fourteen car bombings orchestrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose goal has always been a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. The bombings, which received only light coverage in a media unwilling to talk about anything that might show their candidate in a bad light, are only one of the fracture points.
A united Iraq died a few days after the withdrawal. The only people who still believe in the fiction of a centrally governed Iraq are holding down desks in the State Department. There are several Iraqs now. There is Iran’s Iraq, the one overseen by Tehran’s puppet in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki. Then there is Iraqi Kurdistan which stands on the verge of declaring its independence, an act that will touch off a violent territorial dispute accompanied by ethnic cleansing.
Iraqi federalism is only popular among some in the Shiite majority, for whom it means majority rule. Maliki’s warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the latter’s subsequent flight and sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan has ended the fiction of joint rule in Iraq. The Kurds have branded Maliki a dictator and are swiftly breaking their remaining ties to Baghdad.
President Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan declared that, “Power-sharing and partnership between Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and others is now completely non-existent and has become meaningless” and concluded his speech by hinting at an independence referendum, a move almost certain to touch off a violent conflict, particularly in oil rich Kirkuk.
For now it’s a countdown to the inevitable. Barzani has been conducting a diplomatic tour to line up support for the next phase. As has Tariq al-Hashemi. Facing a Shiite majority and Maliki’s consolidation of power, they need all the domestic and international support that they can get. Western troops have left leaving behind a power vacuum that Iran is swiftly filling up.
Obama’s recent meeting with Barzani was typical of the empty discussions that have taken place since the withdrawal. While Obama urged Barzani to work within the Iraqi Constitution, the United States has made some concessions that pave the way for independence, including issuing visas through the US Consulate in Erbil, allowing Kurds to bypass Baghdad. The underlying message is that while the United States does not officially support Kurdish separatism, it is reducing obstacles to its independence.
The United States and the United Kingdom might be gone, but Barzani has managed to find a new ally in an unlikely place, Istanbul. Turkey has turned to Iraqi Kurds to check growing Iranian influence in Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Prime Minister Maliki have exchanged harsh words, with Erdogan criticizing Maliki for sectarian policies and Maliki accusing Turkey of becoming a “hostile state”.
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