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Iraq must avoid sectarian rule
by George S. Hishmeh | Dec 23,2011 | 22:49
Hardly had most American troops withdrawn from Iraq last week, a step that was marked by a colourless ceremony in Baghdad that was not attended by any senior Iraqi official, than this oil-rich Arab state appeared to be on the verge of a dangerous sectarian conflict.
This development seemingly replicated what other Arab states in the region — Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain — are going through in the wake of the storm called Arab Spring, a democracy and freedom movement that began in the Arab world about a year ago and which saw several Arab leaders overthrown, hardly with any significant change thereafter.
In an ill-advised and worrisome move, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, a Shiite, lashed out at Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, a prominent member of the Sunni Iraqiya Party, ordering his arrest for allegedly running a death squad which carried out bombings and assassinations that killed several people. 
He also called on parliament to issue a vote of no confidence for his deputy, Saleh Al Mutlaq, who had compared Maliki to a dictator.
The surprise actions of the prime minister came shortly after his visit, last week, with President Barack Obama and only a day after US troops pulled out of Iraq into neighbouring Kuwait. 
The US military is reported to still have two bases in Iraq and about 5,000 soldiers, including those who attended the low-keyed ceremony. (The US had at one time more than 500 bases and more than 170,000 troops).
Maliki’s actions have cast a pall of gloom on the American troop withdrawal. There is no doubt that a majority of Americans had long wanted the war in Iraq to end. American deaths in the nine-year conflict are much higher than expected, about 4,500, and the Iraqi losses much higher, ranging from 103,775 to 1,446,063, the latter figure provided by the London-based Opinion Research Business (ORB). 
US military wounded in hostile action total nearly 32,000, while 40,000 others were injured in nonhostile circumstances.
The cost of the war to the US government is estimated to range from $800 billion to about a trillion dollars. Approximately 1.3 million Iraqis are currently displaced Iraq and about a million others have taken refuge in neighbouring Syria and Jordan.
According to Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, “the war has been a strategic failure when its costs are compared to its benefits”.
He believes that the US “went to war for the wrong reasons: there was no threat from Iraqi missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and Iraq was not linked to Al Qaeda or other terrorist attacks on the United States or its allies”.
Cordesman believes that the US mistakenly “tied itself to exiles whose claims and ambitions were not in line with the hopes and needs of the Iraqi people, and were often linked to Iran”. 
He also pointed out that the Obama administration has not provided “any picture of the strategy it now intended to adopt in the Gulf region as a whole, or how it will deal with any aspect of the threat posed by Iran”.
But US Vice President Joe Biden told the Newsweek magazine that the US is not going to “intervene again” even if Iran threatens Iraq. 
He then spelled out the US goal there: “For us to be out of there [Iraq], have Iraq united, secure within its own borders, not a threat to its neighbours and no one able to fundamentally threaten them. That’s where they are now. I’m confident by our continued engagement with them we can strengthen that, and that’s overwhelmingly in our interest to do that.”
This is probably one reason the US embassy in Iraq is the largest in the world, an indication that it is not leaving the country.  For one, the embassy houses more than 1,000 private contractors. Iraq is said to be one of the poorest countries in the world in spite of its oil wealth — “ranking 161st in per capita income”.
The test of US intentions remains its handling of the murky political situation in the country which remains politically crippled and unstable, now that the members of the Iraqiya party, which had won a plurality of votes last year, have walked out of parliament because of the prime minister’s actions.
It would be an unforgivable mistake if the Obama administration believes it can put all its eggs in one “sectarian” basket and remain the source of regional turbulence.
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