The many scenarios after Abadi’s visit to Washington

Friday 24/04/2015

Beirut - It does not take much effort to note the similarity in the visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Washing­ton and the visits of his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki to the US capital.

Perhaps the only difference lies in the faces as it is quite difficult to make out the difference in the performance of the two men on more than one front.

The administration of US Presi­dent Barack Obama, meanwhile, has yet to grasp the political re­percussions of Maliki’s policies for conditions in Iraq. Nonetheless, it appears that Abadi didn’t succeed during his visit to dispel US “res­ervations” about his government’s performance, whether in terms of national reconciliation or fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).

Although Abadi criticised Iran at the end of his visit in a bid to save face, he also said that Iraq would receive a shipment of F-16 fighter jets, while Washington maintained it was studying the proper time to go ahead with the deal.

The supposed slow pace of deliv­ering the weaponry that Baghdad wants doesn’t merely reflect a fear that the arms might fall into the wrong hands as much as it reveals implicit collusion with Tehran, to avoid upsetting the Islamic Repub­lic on the eve of signing a nuclear framework agreement with it.

Analysts in Washington say that the US political and military establishments suffer from a type of “blindness” when it comes to what is happening in Iraq. In public, US officials voice objections over the role of the predominantly Shia Popular Mobilisation militias, whose major groups are Iranian-led, in fighting ISIS.

This view is supported by the apparent lack of seriousness on the part of US military leaders about moving away from cooperation with Iran and its allies; thus, they fail to notice that these militias, which stood aside and watched how the liberation of Tikrit was achieved with US air support, will quickly destroy the city, with acts of revenge to follow.

While US military circles have declared that the anti-ISIS coalition forces will not take part in recover­ing Anbar, there is news of a near-complete collapse in this province, to the benefit of ISIS. This means that in the end, the biggest loser will be the Sunni tribes.

After more than eight months since the collapse of the political and military structure that ruled Iraq under Maliki, and the tapping of Abadi to form a new national unity government, setting up a National Guard force comprised of Sunni tribesmen has yet to take place.

More and more people have urged the arming of these forces and criticised the tardiness in doing so but Iraqi leaders have said that these forces have yet to receive military support from the government in Baghdad. They also suffer from shortfalls in manpower and financial and other resources.

Thus, one may ask: What is the White House planning for this phase and what did Obama mean when he talked about the need for Iraq’s friends, who are offering assistance to it and official Iraqi institutions — this was repeated by Abadi later — to send this as­sistance through the government? Was this meant as a signal to Iran? Does this mean that the alternative to US weapons will be Tehran?

Under this slogan of “fear of US weapons once again falling into the hands of ISIS”, if there is no confirmation that the political pro­cess will lead to the reorganisation of the Iraqi army, the US-Iranian partnership in confronting ISIS and al-Qaeda will be legitimised on the ground, through demonising and deepening Sunni extremism, at least in Iraq. This appears to be a consolation prize for Tehran, by rehabilitating it and encouraging it to accept the nuclear agreement in two and a half months’ time.

However, this doesn’t necessar­ily imply that there is an attempt to end the role of Sunnis and annihi­late them in Iraq.

But if the administration’s per­formance indicates its intention to redraw its alliances in the region by deepening its links to Iran, then the matter becomes one of locat­ing a new “policeman”, or adding another policeman.

Although Obama affirmed that Iran doesn’t pose a threat to Arab countries or US strategic interests, does this signal a desire to replace Tel Aviv with Tehran? After all, Iran represents a large minority that is able to defend itself and doesn’t need foreign aid to survive, as is the case with Israel.

Of course, this isn’t a realistic scenario just yet; it’s largely linked to the policies of this administra­tion and won’t necessarily apply to its successor.

But it’s also likely that we’ll see changes, even in Israeli-Iranian relations, such as the news, re­vealed by Comprehensive Nu­clear Test-Ban Treaty Organization Executive-Secretary Lassina Zerbo, that Israeli and Iranian experts will participate together in technical meetings to be held soon under the group’s auspices.