Iraq needs serious dialogue with Trump administration

Sunday 05/02/2017

All geopolitical indicators point to a major shift in the US power structure with Donald Trump as president.
Trump’s vow to wipe out radical Islam and the Islamic State (ISIS) will lead to a serious revision of US policies in the Middle East, where there exist both Sunni-based and Shia-based govern­ment systems, led by Saudi Arabia for the former and Iran in the lat­ter. Iraq represents an important component of the second type and will be considered by Trump and his team as a crucial pillar for the religious regime in Tehran.
The US ambassador to Iraq recently reassured the country’s government of Trump’s support in its fight against ISIS, which is in line with Trump’s campaign promises, but this does little to alleviate Tehran’s and Baghdad’s concerns arising from Trump’s anti-radical-Islam stand. Per­haps this new reality would be a wake-up call for the parties in power in Baghdad to give up their extremist policies and return the country to its natural orienta­tion. It is, however, unlikely this will happen as there are no signs of changes from the extremist Islamic line followed for the past 13 years.
Trump’s expected serious revisions of the nuclear deal with Iran and Iran’s expected reaction will also affect Iraq’s Shia-based government. For the moment, there is a sort of ceasefire be­tween Washington and Baghdad because of the war against ISIS in Iraq. When this war is over, the Iraqi authorities will have to show their real stand regarding Wash­ington’s policies.
It is very unlikely that they will turn their backs on Iran and the power-balancing act as played by the governments of Nuri al-Maliki and Haider al-Abadi will not do. Unlike Barack Obama, Trump is not going to limit himself to simply asking for compassion towards the Sunni population in Iraq and accusing this population of terrorism will not do either. If one looks at the Iraqi Sunnis as the carriers of Saddam’s legacy, it would be useful to keep in mind that Trump had praised Saddam and pictured him as an anti-ter­rorism hero even though he was a despot.
None of the excuses concocted by the Shia parties to justify their practices and are inspired by the myth of injustice against them will succeed in co-opting Trump’s policies.
This myth has nothing to do with the realities of pre- 2003 Iraq. During that time, the Iraqi people — Sunnis and Shias alike — were seeking freedom and pluralistic democracy. The Sunni Arabs in pre-2003 Iraq, along with their partners among the Shia Arabs, were the engine behind construction and development efforts in Iraq.
Given the current wave of inter­national terror under the cover of Islam, it will be difficult for Shia groups in Iraq to distance them­selves from such acts and point instead to Sunni Arabs in Iraq as if the latter do represent extremist Salafist Sunni Islam. It is true that radical Shia groups in Iraq are not targeting Western and US inter­ests because their focus is the elimination of Sunni Arab Iraqis but it is doubtful that US decision-makers will make a distinction between one form of radical Islam and another. Cracks are already noticeable between Washington and Shia power groups in Iraq.
To counter the coming threat, the ruling parties in Iraq will try to convince the West and the United States that they are the sole side fighting ISIS and terror­ism in Iraq. They will also try to unjustly pin the crime of harbour­ing terrorism on the Iraqi Sunnis. In reality, they will be trying to mask the corruption and wan­ton destruction caused by the Shia regime in Iraq, which was frequently mentioned by Trump during his campaign. By doing so, the Iraqi regime thinks that it might be spared from a harsh US policy against Shia Islam in the region.
During this critical period, it would be wise for non-sectarian political and intellectual elites in Iraq who are committed to a pluralistic civilian state to initiate a serious dialogue about its future with Trump’s advisers and col­laborators.
Various channels could be used and the help of unbiased Arab and US media outlets could be en­listed but it must be done quickly before the sectarian dinosaurs start counter-attacking. We are awaiting Trump in Iraq.