x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

For US in Iraq 'out of the cities' means just that

Since American troops pulled out of Iraq's cities on June 30, Iocal authorities have declined to call them back for help. International attention is once again focusing on tension between Kurdistan and Baghdad. As the Iraqi army grows in strength, Kurdish leverage is diminishing and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki call for a stronger central government in Baghdad is causing alarm.

Since American troops pulled out of Iraq's cities on June 30, Iocal authorities have declined to call them back for help. At the same time, international attention is once again focusing on tension between Kurdistan and Baghdad. As the Iraqi army grows in strength, Kurdish leverage is diminishing and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's call for a stronger central government in Baghdad is causing alarm. "Two weeks after US combat troops withdrew from Iraq's major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren't asking American forces for help. Although US troops are 'just a radio call away,' in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven't asked even once," McClatchy Newspapers reported. "In Baghdad, the Iraqis also won't allow US forces on the street, except for supply convoys. "The failure to trigger the [call up service]... suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think that they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days. "As the June 30 deadline approached for withdrawing troops from major cities, US military officials told their Iraqi army and national police allies that they were 'just a radio call away' in case they needed American military muscle. "So far, however, it isn't clear whether there's been a call. McClatchy special correspondents in Najaf, Basra, Anbar, Diyala and Mosul report that Iraqi forces have made no requests for US combat help." Meanwhile, in The Guardian, Jonathan Steele noted: "Overshadowed by the war in Afghanistan, a new cauldron of potential violence is threatening to destabilise Barack Obama's foreign policy. Tension between Iraq's Kurds and Arabs has mounted to the point where normally non-alarmist thinktanks like the International Crisis Group have raised the prospect of clashes between the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga forces. "Obama's people have been quietly but firmly piling on the diplomatic pressure. Vice President Joe Biden, a long-standing friend of the Kurds, rushed to Baghdad last week to calm things down. He scored a small victory when Kurdistan's regional parliament deferred a referendum on a new constitution that had been due to go to voters at the end of next week. The constitution enshrines ancient Kurdish claims on the oil-rich region of Kirkuk as well thousands of square miles of territory that currently lies outside Kurdistan in the area that runs round Mosul and the province of Nineveh as far as the Syrian border. The government in Baghdad was furious, claiming the draft constitution, which was sure to be approved, not only sought to legitimise a land-grab but also paved the way for an enlarged Kurdistan to secede. "Although the referendum has been delayed, the pause may only last a few months. Obama's team will have to work hard to resolve a crisis that has simmered since Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003." Daniel P Serwer from the United States Institute of Peace was asked by Foreign Affairs whether he could imagine violence breaking out between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish regional government. "It's not all that hard to imagine. But apart from new fighting is this question of what is the balance of forces between the Kurdish forces and the Arab forces. That's changing rather dramatically with the assistance that the Americans are providing to the Iraqi army. I think the Kurds are acutely aware of the fact that their situation and leverage are not improving. They're both declining. They're anxious to get the Americans to stay, because the Americans' help to ensure the status quo. It isn't exactly what the Kurds want, but it's better than what they might otherwise get. Quite apart from independence or not, is the question of how big Kurdistan is. That's an issue because even if Kurdistan remains part of Iraq, the Kurds claim territories that lay outside the recognised boundaries of Kurdistan. This is what ICG is calling 'the trigger line'. The Americans play the central role of balancing these forces and ensuring that they don't come into hostile contact with each other." In Asia Times, Sami Moubayed wrote: "Last week, Arabs in Kirkuk unified their efforts to create a political front, aimed at counterbalancing Kurdish ambitions in the oil-rich area ahead of upcoming Iraqi elections. "The coalition, which will be called the Arab Political Council, includes scholars, independents, tribal leaders and Arab politicians from the Arab Unity bloc. The new coalition aims at seemingly telling the world: there are Arabs in Kirkuk - not just Kurds - and they are opposed to annexing the town to Iraqi Kurdistan, or implementing Article 140, which calls for a referendum in Kirkuk, to see if its population wishes to remain part of Iraq, or join Kurdistan. "The Arab front was not born by accident; regional heavyweights in the region have recently been exerting a lot of influence in both Sunni-Shiite feuds, and Arab-Kurdish rivalries. Neither Turkey, nor Syria or Iran are pleased at the revival of Kurdish ambitions in Kirkuk. Needless to say, the Kurds are uncomfortable with the new front in Kirkuk, and are alarmed by a statement made by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week calling for a stronger central government in Baghdad." Finally, at TomDispatch, Michael Klare looked at the revitalisation of Iraq's oil industry and said: "it appears that, for the first time since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, the stars in the energy firmament are aligning in ways that may favour Iraq's reemergence as a major oil producer. Whereas the major powers once competed among themselves for influence in Iraq or backed one or another of Iraq's local rivals in efforts to weaken or contain that country, all now seem inclined to invest in, and benefit from, the reconstruction of its energy infrastructure. The Bush administration, which looked with alarm at Saddam Hussein's growing ties to Russia and China, invaded the country in part to reassert American dominance in the Persian Gulf region and diminish the role played by Moscow and Beijing. Today, Washington appears to welcome the growing role of Chinese and Russian firms in the rehabilitation of Iraq's dilapidated energy infrastructure. "It's a reasonable assumption that behind this unprecedented shift lies an acknowledgment of the inescapable reality of peak oil. As things stand now, the world will soon reach a maximum level of sustainable daily oil output, followed by an inevitable contraction in available supplies. Many experts believe that the peak in conventional [liquid] oil output is likely to occur in the very near future, perhaps in the 2010-2015 timeframe, with global output topping out about 5 to 10 million barrels per day higher than today's 85 million barrels. "Hitting the peak moment in that timeframe, and at that level, would prove devastating to the world economy, as global energy demand is expected to climb far higher, thanks to rising consumption patterns in China, India, and other dynamos of the developing world. It's not hard, then, to do the math. An addition of perhaps six million supplemental barrels per day from Iraq would make a striking difference in the energy equation. In fact, it might prove the difference between squeaking by and a catastrophic worldwide shortage. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that - no matter what their governments felt about the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq - the major powers now share a common interest in facilitating that country's recovery as a major oil exporter."

pwoodward@thenational.ae