FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is Iraq on the Cusp of Partition?

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Soldiers are deserting a beleaguered Iraqi army as it struggles to keep its hold on the northern half of Iraq in the face of escalating hostility from Sunni Arabs and Kurds who dominate in the region.

Around the oil city of Kirkuk Kurdish troops have advanced south to take over military positions abandoned by the army, while in Baghdad senior Iraqi politicians say that for the first time there is talk of partitioning the country.

The current crisis was sparked on 23 April when the Iraqi army attacked a sit-in protest in the Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, killing at least 50 people and injuring 110. Outraged Sunni Arab protesters have since stepped up their demonstrations against the Shia-led government. Demonstrators are increasingly protected by armed men, some of whom are accused of dragging five military intelligence soldiers in civilian clothes from a car that came near a protest in Fallujah and killing them.

There are signs that the Iraqi army can no longer cope with a crisis in which it is confronting both Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Many soldiers prefer to desert the army rather than shoot at protesters said Najmaldin Karim, the Kurdish Governor of Kirkuk, where Hawijah is situated, in an interview with The Independent. Most deserters are Sunni, Mr Karim said, but he added that some are Shia who don’t want to fight in strange places for something they don’t believe in.

Mr Karim, formerly a doctor in the US, confirmed that Kurdish troops have moved to take over positions around Kirkuk left vacant by the Iraqi army, but vehemently denies that this is a land-grab by the Kurds seeking to take over the oilfields as Iraqi army commanders have alleged. Affirming that Kurdish forces have taken over places vacated by the Iraqi army, he explained that Iraqi military units are under orders to leave their outposts at night and concentrate in defensible positions.

“They [Iraqi army commanders] are playing on people’s emotions and trying to detract from the fact that they attacked civilian demonstrators and killed scores of them at close range.”

Mediators seeking to end the protest in Hawijah last week say they only needed another six hours to end the confrontation when the army attacked.

A confrontation between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad last summer has led to poor relations between the two. Security cooperation has broken down and there has been a 30 per cent rise in terrorist attacks in Kirkuk as a result. Last week al-Qa’ida in Iraq was able to take over the town of Suleiman Bec in Kirkuk province and only left under a truce arrangement

“It is really ironic,” says Mr Karim, “that at Hawijah the army attacks demonstrators including children and elderly. And then at Suleiman Bec al-Qa’ida killed the police chief. They captured and killed whoever was in the police station. The whole population of the town left. Terrorists controlled the town for 24 hours and then they were given safe passage to get out with their weapons and stolen cars.”

Iraqi politicians are gloomy about the prospects for keeping the country together. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the former Iraqi National Security Adviser, said in a phone interview yesterday that for the first time he was  hearing leaders in Baghdad talk seriously of partitioning the country. He said ”I believe Iraq is going through its most critical phase since the creation of the state in 1921. ” He said that for Iraq partition would not be a soft option but would be more like the bloodbath when India and Pakistan divided.

In the last four months Mr Maliki has done little to conciliate the Sunni Arabs who have been conducting a peaceful campaign demanding civil and political rights. They want an end to job discrimination and a terror law under which suspects can be arrested tortured on the word of an unknown informant. The protests were conducted largely without violence until the unexpected break-up of the Hawaijah sit-in. Sunni Arabs are now demanding that the army withdraw from their areas. A highly influential Sunni religious figure, seen as the inspirational leader of the protests, Abdul Malik al-Saadi, had previously counselled moderation, but last week issued a statement saying “if they open fire, then burn the land beneath them, and defend your selves with courage.”

The government has been ambivalent in its attitude to the demonstrations, sometimes declaring their grievances to be just and at others demonising them as al-Qa’ida members. “I call upon the peaceful protesters to expel the criminals targeting military and police,” Mr Maliki said in a statement posted on his official website. Yesterday ten satellite television companies, including al-Jazeera and al-Sharkiya, had their licenses withdrawn, while earlier the authorities announced a curfew in the whole of Sunni Anbar province in western Iraq.  But the television channels have gone on operating and the army may not be in a position to enforce a curfew.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail