The Dilemma of the Arab Ghost
The last boot of US combat troops had barely left the Iraqi soil than the country celebrated the withdrawal with a spate of bombings that left 68 people dead and nearly 200 injured. Obama declared US combat involvement in Iraq over, and unlike his predecessor George Bush, there was no triumphalist celebrations of a “mission accomplished” naivety. Instead it was a solemn withdrawal that could be likened to a retreat with the tail between the legs. Since the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent escalation of violence, the country had literally become the play ground and theatre for Al-Qaeda and terrorists alike, to test their latest killing machines. The suffering that had been bequeathed on the Iraqi populace remains an open secret.
The terrorists had cited the presence of foreign boots on Iraqi soil as the main reason and angst for their atrocities, following the fall and eventual death of Saddam Hussein. This has been the oxygen for their continued violence and to some extent had found support from some xenophobic quarters. Although foreign troops were the targets of the terrorists initially, the citizens had come to bear the brunt of the atrocities. The withdrawal of US troops was hailed by many at home and abroad as the beginning of a new dawn. Unfortunately, this dawn has been rudely marked by a return to type. A cursory look at a balance sheet would reveal that the eight year operation has cost billions of dollars and many thousands of lives. The US lost 4,487 service personnel and almost 32,000 had been wounded in action during the invasion and occupation. The UK lost 179 service personnel, of which 136 were killed in action. According to Iraqi Body Count (IBC), there had been between 97,461 and 106, 348 civilian deaths up to July 2010. It is estimated that the US will have spent $802 billion dollars by 2011 fiscal year (BBC).
The string of blasts that rocked Baghdad on Thursday has been blamed squarely on the Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki. He has been accused of lighting the blue torch paper, no sooner had the US left the shores of Iraq. Iraq is a country that is divided along tribal and religious lines; which include the Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The dichotomy is principally on religious lines. The country had been sitting on a politically tectonic plate of stability. The rivalry and jostling for political supremacy has always characterised the political topography of the country. With such a fledgling democracy, the country has barely been held together as a result of the war weariness and political constipation of its citizens. Against such a backdrop, the last thing one would expect is for the Pm to stir up the hornets’ nest.
Mr. Maliki of the majority Shia group issued an arrest warrant for his Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi; one of the most prominent Sunni politicians. From the onset, Iraq has been plagued by sectarian conflicts and political wrangling. It does not take an Einstein to fathom that the post-Saddam political configurations have been structured on the need for reconciliation. In one fell swoop, the PM has undermined the whole process by issuing an arrest warrant for his VP on terror related charges. In response, death merchants have seized on the opportunity to bring terror to the innocent civilians.
The PM has been seen by many as politically immature with his timing, prompting a counter accusation from his PM that “somebody inside the government manipulated all these explosives and their damages, nobody else could be qualified”. Others believe that the attacks have the fingerprints of Iran’s Shia government. As the accusations fly about, there is no question that Iraq is at risk of going back to square one, thanks to the political miscalculation of its PM. As the world watches on with bated breath, one cannot help but feel for the innocent civilians trapped between these political demagogues.
Political tensions alone cannot lead to civil war, but sectarianism is one possible cause. The leadership seems to have pulled the rug to make it a self- fulfilling prophecy. Before “the occupation”, the sectarian attitude in Iraq, if any was dormant. It became a past time following the intervention. It is obvious that where sectarianism is prevalent, religious, philosophical or ethical views tend to render people incapable of making objective decisions. There is no quick-fix solution to Iraq’s sectarianism, but Iraqis need to collectively challenge this cancer that is tearing the country apart. In Iraq today, everybody seems to be imprisoned in their own sectarian or political affiliations. If Iraq is to achieve and maintain peace and stability, its sovereignty must be restored under participation of all Iraqi factions for a free and democratic Iraq.
The current crisis in Iraq can be seen as the political extension of religious movements. It is difficult to prove the charges against Al-Hashemi without due process and it will be ingenious to dismiss them as frivolous. Nevertheless, some commentators have seen the charges as a political attempt to weed out potential challenges to M. Maliki’s position. The recent political upheavals that have come to characterise the Arab world were hailed as positive outcomes; as we saw Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya etc toppled their despotic leaders for a dose of democracy. These politically volcanic eruptions were hailed worldwide, and have been fondly referred to as the “Arab Spring”. But underneath all the hopes, pomp and pageantry, it is unquestionable that a new sectarianism is reshaping the Arab world, which has been firmly entrenched along binary divides.
When Tunisia conducted its democratic elections, the formerly banned Ennahda party won 90 assembly seats and pledged “moderate Islam as its reference point; a far cry from its programme of Islamic Sharia law. In Egypt, the first round of the country’s complex parliamentary poll saw Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood with a comfortable lead. Libya is yet to conduct a similar exercise but on the evidence of all that has gone before, it is predictable that the leading party will have a religious nomenclature. It is obvious that being Arab/Muslim countries, political parties with religious constructs are expected to win.
The west has been preaching for democratic reforms in these parts of the world and in some cases like Libya, it had taken direct intervention to bring the political sermons to fruition. Ironically, such democratic reforms have been sculptured along religious lines when the people have gone to the polls. Being Muslim countries with Islamic parties in control may sound obvious, but like a duck on water, the undercurrent of sectarian divide is evident between the Shia and Sunni Muslims in the region. In addition, there is the popular belief that Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah among others, are political shareholders of the internal affairs of these countries. It is this trend that may cause sleepless nights for all those who thought that the “Arab Spring” was the best thing that happened since sliced bread.
Early successes for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt prompted Israel’s Ehud Barak to voice fears that international treaties will not be respected. The close ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas do not make for good bedtime reading in Israeli circles. Added to that is the potential for Israel to feel politically and religiously claustrophobic as the Islamic political parties gain prominence in the region. The irony is that western governments have directly or by proxy been the midwife the midwife for the current political topography of the region. You can bet your bottom dollar that some would be asking what they have let themselves in for.
The new Arab Spring, the sectarian divides, the resurgence of Islamic political parties which had hitherto been dormant under the likes of Mubarak and others, have raised serious questions against the backdrop of the perennial Palestinian question. Lurking in the background is the threat by Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. It will be the mother of all understatements to say that 2011 in the Arab region has been eventful. The hope is that as 2011 fades within our memory, the New Year will mark a new dawn in the region. In Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt there are new kids on the block. As the new regime in Libya continues to find its political feet, the hope is that President Assad will continue to make way in the sands of time and succumb to avert more loss of life and bloodshed. But the recent bombings has ratcheted the situation a notch higher; a break from the previous uprisings, prompting commentators to believe that A-Qaeda may be changing its post code following the departure of US forces from Iraq.
Above all, you would hope that Israel and Palestine will finally accept that no political solution has ever been achieved by a state of war or acts of war alone. War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. War does not determine who is right, only who is left. So like the last supper, just come to the table and dine out your differences for the sake of humanity. The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst. All the arms we need are for hugging.
A Happy New Year to all readers.
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