Monday, August 28, 2006

Iraq sliding deeper into abyss

August 23, 2006
THE SECTARIAN divide in Iraq has widened further with Sunday's massacre of Shiite Muslim pilgrims marking a major religious event in the capital, Baghdad. Surely, the main goal of the snipers was to fuel Sunni-Shiite hostilities and push the country further into the deep abyss of bloodshed and violence.
The questions many have in mind but are not being asked in public include: Have the Shiite and Sunni communities of Iraq crossed the point of no return? Is it possible that the communities — with the northern Kurds thrown in as the third partner — could still come back together and retain national unity? Are the wounds in the Iraqi society too deep to be healed?
The people of Iraq have lived through worse hardships and crises, but they survived as one national entity, although many of them bitterly opposed the shotgun marriage they found themselves in as a result of colonial designs. The reason that Iraq survived as a single entity — until 1991 when the Kurds broke out and set up their autonomous enclave away from Saddam Hussein's army — was that the rulers held them together through whatever it took — oppression and coersion.
People in the Middle East understood this clearly. For their own reasons, they accepted it as inevitable because any tampering with Iraq would have led to unravelling of the precarious bindings that held the country's people together as one national entity, and no one was ready to face the consequences.
Those bindings fell loose with the US invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. It has been and remains a free-for-all since then, with the occupying forces and their allies unable to make any real difference in terms of containing the insurgency. Thrown into the bargain are the international jihadists who are fighting the US and allied forces in Iraq for the sake of fighting the US wherever possible.
Today, with an average of 80 people being killed every day in sectarian strife, things do look too gloomy for Iraq to recover. Many would see the country as beyond salvation and proceeding on the way towards disintegration into ethnic enclaves. Tens of thousands would die as a result.
Efforts are indeed made for reconciliation among the people of Iraq, but no one is willing to compromise on what they consider as bottom lines for themselves. It is highly unlikely that the present US strategy of feeding whomever it finds fit to be fed and hitting whomever it finds fit to be hit would work. External and internal forces are at work which have scrambled the entire scene to an extent that it is impossible to determine who represents the genuine interests of the people of Iraq, whether Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, or any other.
The US, which should be leading the effort for national reconciliation in Iraq, is also lost between its strategic interests and the need to stabilise the country. The Arab World could help, but only to a limited extent until such time enough trust and confidence is built between the players in Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries.
No one has any overnight solutions to the crisis in Iraq and many feel the situation may be beyond salvation and the broad goal of preventing the country's disintegration.
The only hope to preserve Iraq's national unity is through collective action of the world community and the Arab World. The world community is represented by the UN while the Arab League represents the Arab World. The US should accept that its grand designs in the Middle East have failed and should make room for a collective UN-Arab effort to succeed in Iraq. As long as the US balks at doing so, hundreds of Iraqis would continue to die every day.