Michael Jansen: Disregarded fault lines
February 20, 2015
The murder in Baghdad a week ago of a leading Sunni tribal leader has put paid to the fiction that the current Shia fundamentalist-dominated government under Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi can ever be “inclusive.” Sunni lawmakers have blamed the murder of Sheikh Qasim Al Janabi, his son and six bodyguards on Shia militias revived since Daesh captured the western cities of Ramadi and Fallujah and the northern city of Mosul last year. The sheikh’s nephew Ziad Al Janabi, a Sunni parliamentarian, was also kidnapped but set free after a beating.
While some Shia militia groups had retreated into the background in recent years, others prospered under the tutelage of former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and militia leaders have been given prime posts in the government, although Abadi initially had the intention of appointing figures who would be acceptable to both Shias and Sunnis.
Hakim Al Zamili, head of parliament’s defence and security committee which was set to investigate the killings, is a Sadrist militia commander accused of operating death squads during the 2005-07 sectarian conflict and of the 2006 kidnap and disappearance of Ammar Al Saffar, a deputy health minister who had investigated Zamili’s criminal activities. The Sadrist movement and Mahdi Army militia he represents are loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist whose connection with Iran is tenuous.
Interior Minister Mohammed Salem Al Ghabban was a leading figure in the Iran founded and fostered Badr Corps which fought with the Iranian army against Iraq during the 1980-88 war between these two countries. The corps has been held responsible for mass killings and sectarian cleansing of Sunnis. Abadi had suggested Hadi Al Amiri, the corps commander for the post, but this appointment was rejected as too controversial.
The presence of these men in the current Iraqi government reveals two things: Abadi is weak and at the beck and call of powerful Shia fundamentalist factions and is in no position to effect the sectarian reconciliation that Iraq requires to defeat Daesh.
While the Sadrists, Badrists, and other Shia militias are well-funded and well-armed and are assuming the job of battling Daesh that the still broken Iraqi army should have shouldered, Sunni tribesmen trying to defend their areas and fight Daesh are starved of both money and weaponry.
Last month, an eleven-member delegation of Iraqi tribal figures from Anbar province, led by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, paid a visit to Washington, DC with the aim of asking the Obama administration for direct delivery of funds and arms. Their arrival coincided with a Daesh attack on Abu Risha’s compound that killed nine policemen and wounded 28 of his entourage but their pleas for aid were ignored.
Without the support of Iraq’s Sunnis, particularly those in strategic Anbar, which borders on Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Daesh cannot be contained, routed, and finally uprooted.
This was shown by what happened when US troops reinforced by Sunni “Awakening Council” Sunni fighters fought and defeated Al Qaeda during the 2007-08 “surge.”
Once Al Qaeda was seriously reduced, neither Washington nor Baghdad attempted to uproot it. Therefore, Al Qaeda remained underground waiting for the moment to reappear.
Shia fundamentalist Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s policies alienated Sunnis and encouraged a minority of them to turn to Al Qaeda to wreak revenge. Maliki refused to honour pledges to “Awakening” fighters to give them jobs in the military and civil service and pay salaries and pensions. He marginalised Sunnis politically and economically, imprisoned thousands, killed scores, and abused hundreds. Along with outlawed and persecuted ex-Baathists, many Sunnis joined Daesh when it appeared on the scene in 2013.
This means Iraq’s war with Daesh is likely to be long, deadly and destructive. The Obama administration knows full well that the Iraqi government is not “national” or “inclusive” but continues to behave if this is the case. This amounts to collusion with the worst of the Shia fundamentalists put in power by the previous administration headed by George W. Bush.
As if the world has not had enough of the Bushes, George W. and his father George H.W., a third Bush, Jeb is likely to stand for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. While he argues he will not be lumbered with the dodgy records of his elder brother (in particular) and his father, he cannot escape them. US voters may recall that the economy was weak under Bush senior and collapsed into the Great Recession under Bush junior and that both embroiled the US in wars in Iraq. These wars have transformed that country into a “failed state” and led to the emergence of Daesh.
In a 2010 CNN joint interview with George W. Jeb said, “I’m the only Republican who was in office [as governor of Florida] when he was in office as president that never disagreed with him.” Such a statement should give the world – if not the Republican party – the incentive to express concern about a third Bush in the White House.
“Jeb” who tends to leave out his last name when campaigning, seeks to sell himself as a pro-small government conservative who will curb spending and reduce taxes. He emphasises his potential domestic agenda while saying little about what he would do in and to the wide world. Jeb Bush is reported to have already raised nearly $100m (Dhs367m) for his two campaigns – to secure both nomination and presidency.
What has the 2016 US presidential race got to do with the murder of Sheikh Qasim Al Janabi? A great deal. Obama’s successor must change his failed policy on Iraq with the aim of bringing in or, indeed, imposing if necessary a truly “inclusive” government in Baghdad representative of Sunnis, secularists, and Iraq’s small minorities. This government must respect and be prepared to serve all the country’s communities. The long war against Daesh will not be won until this happens.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict