Background on Iraq: A Shia-Shia Bloodbath Has Been Averted, but the Threat Remains
The U.S.-British invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed by the attempt to create a new political system there based on British parliamentarism has created a failed state and a recipe for chaos and civil strife. That reality was exposed once again on Aug. 1, as the two major Shia political blocks came close to a clash on the streets of Baghdad in the Green Zone, where the government and parliaments are located. The two blocks are that of Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and their rivals in the Shia “Coordination Framework”. Without going into the ins and outs of the developments, suffice it to say that the conflict has been brewing ever since the October 2021 parliamentary elections and the multiple attempts to form a national government.
Beyond that, in the view of independent Iraqi experts, the real reason for the most recent chaotic events is to prevent a new policy direction in the country, which holds a key position both regionally and internationally. Indeed, the immediate trigger for Al-Sadr’s decision to storm the parliament on July 30 was the selection of the new candidate for Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani, who is known as “Mr. Clean” for his well-known integrity and fight against corruption. He is also a proponent of shifting the Iraqi economy from the current total reliance on oil exports to import all the basic necessities of life, to one based on industrial and agricultural production. This would, of course, require massive investments in rebuilding and modernizing the country’s infrastructure.
Interestingly, as a member of parliament, Al-Sudani shared a conference panel in April with Schiller Institute Coordinator for West Asia, Hussein Askary, organized by the College of Sciences of Baghdad University under the title “The New Silk Road: Confident Steps towards Iraq’s Prosperity”. Al-Sudani stated his clear support for large-scale economic cooperation with China on the basis of the “oil for reconstruction” principle to avoid financial bottlenecks in infrastructure investments, which has plagued the economy for the past 18 years. After the seminar Al-Sudani tweeted the following challenge: “There must be a popular pressure to urge the government to sign a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement with China. This represents a realistic solution to pull out Iraq from its current tragic condition economically, resuscitate the economy, and create thousands of job opportunities, thus improve the living conditions of all citizens.”
Iraqi analysts also point to the recent statements by U.S. President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia, where he said that the U.S. does not intend to leave a vacuum in the Middle East to be filled by China. They argue that the U.S., Britain, the Gulf countries, Turkey and even Iran are all comfortable with Iraq’s misery, because of the various advantages it affords them. Politically, Saudi Arabia and the UAE control many Sunni groups, while Iran controls a good share of the Shia groups. Economically, Iraq is the largest importer of agricultural products from both Turkey and Iran, and Jordan receives oil at big discount. Britain has major economic interests in the country in the oil sector, but also controls sensitive institutions such as the civilian air traffic, power plants through proxies and even security firms. Most of the oil money stolen by politicians finds its way into British and American banks, or is invested in real estate in the UAE, Jordan or Turkey. Militarily, the U.S. still has bases in the country through which it can control territories in Syria and confront Iran. Turkey also has three military bases, although without any legal agreement.
This surrealistically unstable, but contained, situation does not favor the emergence of a strong Iraqi government, which would use the country’s resources to build a powerful agro-industrial economy as well as military and security forces. Nonetheless, one positive result of the latest turmoil is the emergence of an open discussion on dumping the British-U.S.- backed parliamentary system and changing the Constitution to create a republican presidential system with a president voted into office directly by the people.