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Iraq: Continuing on a dangerous path

Last updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 12:55 AM



IRAQ seems to be sleepwalking back to chaos. Bombings have once again become a part of daily life, with at least 14 people killed and dozens injured in a wave of explosions yesterday.

The latest explosions mainly targeted Shia areas, but once again it was notable that there were also attacks in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

This demonstrates the plan of the bombers - almost certainly Al-Qaeda, linked once more to disaffected Sunni elements, including die-hard Baathist supporters.

Seeking to provoke inter-community tensions and violence  between Sunnis and Shias is an obvious tactic. The return of rival death squads would seal the descent of Iraq back into a bloody bedlam where the terrorists could really thrive. However the motive for striking at the Kurds is more complex. There are those former supporters of Saddam for whom the current ascendency of the Kurds is political anathema. 

It should not be forgotten that the dead dictator was prepared to use poison gas on his rebellious Kurdish subjects.  

Nevertheless revenge cannot be the only reason for the inclusion of the Kurdish region of Iraq in bombings. What is very probably also behind the attacks is the desire to stoke up Kurdish separatists, to produce a grave political challenge to the now Shia-dominated coalition government of Nouri Al-Maliki. Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani, who is now serving his third term, is arguably the one factor which is keeping the arguments of hard-line Kurdish separatists at bay.  Unfortunately Maliki robbed his government of much Sunni support when he decided to prosecute leading Sunni politician and vice-president Tariq Al-Hashemi for running death squads.

Hashemi fled, perhaps significantly first to Kurdish Iraq and then abroad.

The Sunni leader has since been tried in his absence and sentenced to death. The tragedy is that while Hashemi may well have been guilty as charged, there are Shia figures in the coalition who were also connected with the inter-communal savagery during the US occupation.

A major bone of contention between Baghdad and its Kurdish minority is the unilateral awarding of licenses for oil and gas exploration by the Kurds, without reference to the Iraqi parliament and the Maliki government. 

In 2011, US oil giant Exxon was one of the first to be awarded a concession by the Kurds in a deal that is still bitterly disputed in Baghdad. Then this week, Exxon announced that it was pulling out of its concessions in the major West Qurna 1 oil field  in southern Iraq, where it is trying to sell its stake for around $4 billion.  Exxon is reportedly quitting because of the red tape and obstruction by the Iraqi oil ministry, the existence of which, in the circumstances, is hardly surprising. Even so, that such a major player would rather go with the Kurds, despite the legal ambiguity of the contracts it has made with them, is not good news for the Maliki government.

The premier won power promising Iraqis that he would restore stability for a united Iraq and, most crucially, maintain security. Thus, every new terrorist explosion blows a further hole in that list of election pledges.

Ordinary Iraqis, from all communities, are sick of the almost-daily terrorist atrocities. They long for peace and the promised prosperity.

Unfortunately the Maliki government not only seems powerless to deliver these, but is currently bent on pursuing policies that almost appear calculated to frustrate them.

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