An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality

An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality
By Ian Sinclair
13 November 2014

Announcing an increase in the tempo of the US-led military action against the Islamic State (aka ISIL) on CBS’s Facing The Nation on 9 November 2014, President Obama stated:

“What we knew was that phase one was getting an Iraqi government that was inclusive and credible, and we now have done that. And so now what we’ve done is rather than just try to halt ISIL’s momentum, we’re now in a position to start going on some offense.”

As it is being used to justify an expansion of the US-led military action in Iraq, it is worth examining Obama’s claim that the current Iraqi government is “inclusive and credible”. Here, then, are some quotes from Iraq experts and observers on the nature of the government of Haider al-Abadi, who replaced Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s president in September 2014:

Patrick Cockburn, veteran Middle East correspondent and author of ‘The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising’, 25 September 2014: “Mr [David] Cameron blames all this on the mis-government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian and kleptocratic rule has just ended. But it is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by the more personable Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties. Mr Cameron’s stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians is a pipe dream.”

Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent, Financial Times, 26 September 2014: “Despite commitments by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the [Shia] militias, they grow stronger, bolder and more politically influential.”

Erin Evers, Iraqi Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 26 September 2014: “Residents [of the Iraqi town of Latifiyya] told me that Shia militias, still operating under the control of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [now a Vice-President of Iraq], are laying siege to the town, especially the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militia. Sunni residents of other towns to the north accused that group and other militias of carrying out summary executions there after the militias took control in the wake of US air strikes against the Islamic State.”

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqi journalist, The Guardian, 9 October 2014:The problem in Iraq… is it’s not a problem of a person. It’s not Abadi versus Maliki. The whole institution, the whole system, is so rotten to the core. Every single soldier is appointed after paying a bribe. Every military officer is appointed after paying a bribe. And the bribes are still being paid.”

Sarah Margon, Washington director, Human Rights Watch, 24 October 2014: “[An] imam made clear that the Iraqi air force is still using indiscriminate ‘barrel bombs’ to ‘go after ISIS’ in Fallujah, despite instructions from Baghdad to stop using them. Other governments, including that of the United States, have condemned the use of these horrendously destructive bombs across the border in Syria but have said nothing about them in Iraq.”

Tirana Hassan, Senior Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 3 November: “While the Iraqi central government has virtually no formal authority over the militias, who act as a law unto themselves, some key politicians in Baghdad have strong alliances to individual militias. In October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban – a prominent member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group that controls one of the largest and most infamous militias – as interior minister. Despite being almost completely unaccountable to any official ministry, the Shiite militias have been tasked by the government with a key role in the war against the Islamic State.”

Fazel Hawramy and Luke Harding, The Guardian, 13 November 2014: “According to Amnesty International, Shia militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months, and enjoy total impunity for what are ‘war crimes’. It says the Iraqi government under prime minister Haider al-Abadi has supported and armed the groups, in effect fuelling a new and dangerous cycle of lawlessness and sectarian mayhem.”

So, to summarise, the new Iraqi government that Obama said is “inclusive and credible” is horribly corrupt, is continuing to conduct air strikes on Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq – sometimes with barrel bombs – and includes key figures connected to the emboldened Shia militias, which have been carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population with impunity.

The dangers of all this are made clear by Middle East researcher David Wearing: “The West is going ahead with military support for Baghdad as though replacing Maliki with al-Abadi ticks all the required boxes in itself. It doesn’t. Al-Abadi comes from the same party as Maliki – a fact that won’t be lost on many Sunni Arabs – and the danger of supporting him in advance of the required political transformation is that it disincentivises Baghdad from seriously addressing the core political issues.”

And, as Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Margon, argues: “By turning a virtual blind eye to the abuses committed by Iraqi government forces and its proxy militias, key partners [the US, UK etc.] may be helping to push reluctant Sunnis into the Islamic State camp.”

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