Okay, it’s still way too early for any celebrations. But just as the US announces the acceleration of its troop withdrawal from Iraq, the careful analyst Reidar Visser has had three intriguing posts on his blog (1, 2, 3) that bring us modestly good political news from inside Iraq.
(Of course, it’s worth exploring the causal links between these two phenomena… )
In the first of Reidar’s posts, he probed the oil dimension of the changing balance of power between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional center, Arbil, in these months as the Kurds’ longtime protectors and enablers from the US military decrease their footprint and power in the country.
- With Iraqi nationalism on the rise since the last local elections it would be prudent of the Kurds to gradually climb down from the maximalist policies that brought [the small Norwegian oil-exploration company] DNO and other smaller foreign oil companies to Kurdistan in the first place. There may still be a role to play for foreign companies in the north, but it seems increasingly clear that any such project will need a green light from Baghdad in order to be sustainable.
In the second, he looked at the Kirkuk dimension of the shifting Baghdad-Arbil balance. He writes,
- Iraqi public opinion has gradually coalesced around the view that Kirkuk is an integral part of the Iraqi state and even constitutes an Iraqi microcosm through its multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian demographic character. In turn, the shift towards stronger Iraqi nationalist currents has led to greater criticism of the post-2003 Kurdish attempts to define Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” and its policies to strengthen the Kurdish population presence in the city centre, which historically had a closer connection to the Iraqi plains and was culturally dominated by Turkmens…
Reflecting this greater concern for Kirkuk’s status in Iraq and the perceived need to protest the policies of Kurdification (and specifically the possibility of elections being manipulated), a group of nationalist parties known as the 22 July trend last year secured the insertion into the provincial elections law of special clauses that excepted Kirkuk from the local elections pending agreement on interim arrangements that could ensure a more just procedure for choosing the governorate council. The attempt to find a solution stalled, but the point had been made: For the first time since the fateful mention of Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, Iraqi politicians had effectively managed to reverse some of the tendency towards ever greater fragmentation in post-war Iraq.
And in the third post, he links to one of his longer Historiae studies which, he writes, shows that,
- In terms of Iraq’s maturation from a sectarian to an issue-based kind of politics, Maliki’s list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for…
All this seems to me to be good news, even if still only modestly so. Iraq’s people have suffered so much from the intense social and political fragmentation precipitated the US invasion of March 2003– and in many cases almost directly instigated by the occupation forces– that moves like these that seem to strengthen the peaceful political interaction and sense of shared national fates and national interest of the country’s different groups can only be welcomed.
(Another, smaller piece of good news from Iraq is that the blog-based book— “blook”– that Faiza Jarrar and two of her talented sons, Raed and Khalid, published last year about the first year of the US occupation of their country has now won an award. Congratulations, the Jarrars! I plan to write more about the book when I can. But first– my big confession– I need to buy and read it… They are all such wonderful, humane observers and great writers, and during those early months of the occupation I was strongly reliant on their blogged reports of what life was really like for the Iraqis under occupation.)