International Affairs Forum:
In your opinion, to what extent have the recent elections marked any political and social change in Iraq? What are the major conclusions that must be drawn from this event?
Mr. Karim Pakzad:
We can state two or three reasons. First of all, these elections highlight the fact that the Sunni Arab community, who represent a minority, is back in the political game. As a consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, they had been marginalized. Some of them have supported Al Qaeda, and even those who were carrying out legal politics had boycotted the 2005 elections.
The community was indeed in the margins, even if some Sunni have entered the government and the Vice-President of the Iraqi Republic, Tariq Al-Hashimi, is a Sunni Arab. By boycotting the 2005 legislative elections, they gave Shia and Kurds the opportunity to control about two-thirds of the Iraqi Parliament. But one cannot exclusively talk about a political effect. Being apart from the political power, Sunni regions have been staying apart from any development initiative.
On the other hand, Shia communities are the majority. Those who support them have the ability to form the government. Even before the invasion of Iraq by the United States, alliances between Shia and Kurds were representing about 80% of the population. What must also be taken into account is that, from the beginning, Americans have been supporting some tribal militias, aiming to marginalize Al Qaeda in Iraq and ensure security within the provinces.
The third element represents an effort that has been made towards the Sunni. The Al-Maliki government started reintegrating former Saddam Hussein’s bureaucrats and officers among the Army and the Administration. These steps also confirm the return of Sunni in national politics.
Another significant matter is that it is possible to perceive that fear exists regarding the influence of Iran upon Shia politics. And yet, Iraqi Shia seem to be more Iraqi and nationalist than Shia. Moreover, we can observe a clear division within Shia political parties. There has been a dislocation in the midst of the great Shia coalition in which Nouri al-Maliki presented his own list for the last elections.
On the whole, all parties represented for these elections have well understood the idea that the Iraqi population was more interested in a search for stability. It required a strong state, and a strong political power. As a consequence, both candidates, Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, have presented themselves as Arab nationalists. Allawi, who is a secular Shia, has concluded agreements with Arab Sunni, leading to his victory in a majority of Sunni provinces. This highlights a considerable, even fundamental change: the idea that confessionalism has declined and is now declining in Iraq.
For the population, the priority is now returning to peace, and the demand for security. Politicians know very well that confessionalism would most likely worsen the situation. From now on, we even see religious parties posing as nationalists. What is being formed nowadays in Iraq is a form of separation between religion and politics. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shia religious leader in Iraq, even forbade religious leaders to enter the government. This marks not only a certain decline of confessionalism, but as well a growing detachment from Iran.
Plus, another element is the Kurdish position in Iraq. They left their independence claims aside. One must not forget, as well, that the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, is Kurdish.
How would you assess the current situation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq? Are we observing their decline, their withdrawal?
They are certainly much weakened. Of course, the elements that have led Al-Qaeda to get a foothold in Iraq have not completely disappeared. However, since the return of the Sunni community in politics, this branch of Al-Qaeda is very weakened. Americans have also been using Sunni militias to fight against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda has been the victim of its own violence.
One must know that, before the invasion by the U.S army in 2003, Al-Qaeda was not being present in Iraq. It was completely outside of the Sunni Arab culture. It developed as a consequence of emerging communitarian conflicts, but Al-Qaeda had no link whatsoever with the history nor the traditions of Sunni people in Iraq.
We can still find some remnants of AQI, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in Mossoul and in Baghdad. But the current situation is not comparable to what was happening three or four years ago. This evolution proves how Iraqis are able to evolve. Two years ago, the situation was on the verge of the civil war, killing between 2000 and 3000 people a month. Now, there is stability. This is mostly due to the fact that no political party has been able to obtain a majority, which forced politicians for negotiations, in order to arrive at a coalition.
What is your opinion on the recent decision of President Obama for a complete withdrawal of the U.S. troops by the end of 2011? Can it possibly be implemented, in regards to the current Iraqi context?
I think it is a good and necessary decision. This war has been catastrophic, and not only for the Iraqis. If it would have continued, it would have disrupted the whole region. Moreover, it deeply shattered the image of America in the world. Nothing ensured the U.S.’s ability to possibly control Iraq. One must take into account the influence of Syria, Iran and other Arab countries.
This is why I think it is a good decision. Iraq, of course, is still in a phase of transition. The withdrawal of American troops will thus facilitate the emergence of a political solution, coming from Iraqis themselves. For these elections, we could even find Sunni Arabs on the list of the religious Shia. This is the proof of a significant change, of a progress. Moreover, the U.S. withdrawal will encourage Iran and other Arab countries to intervene less in the internal affairs of Iraq. This will give Iraqis the possibility to sort out problems by themselves.
Karim Pakzad is a political science graduate and a Law PhD from the University of Grenoble, France, specializing in international relations. He also lectured at the University of Kabul. He is an associate expert at the IRIS, the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris, France, as well as collaborating with the Jean Jaurès Foundation. He works as a consultant for public and private administrations in France and abroad, and presented reports on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Kurdish issue; holding conferences in these countries as well as in Pakistan and Turkey.
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