Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Mosul End Game: A New Beginning for Iraq or a “Perfect Storm” for Renewed Sectarian Conflict?

Nuri al-Maliki meets with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, 2014
How will the impact of the Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul impact Iraq?  Will the so-called Islamic State’s expulsion from the city offer a reset for Iraqi politics or will it result in a new wave of sectarianism?  Unfortunately, current political and economic conditions do not bode well for a post-Mosul Iraq.

Many of the problems facing a post-Dacish Iraq have been created by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  As is well known, Maliki’s sectarian policies during his second term as prime minister, from 2010 until he was removed in 2014, alienated Iraq’s Sunni Arab population (and Iraq’s Kurds)  It largely explains why large segments of Mosul’s populace was initially sympathetic to the Islamic State when they seized the city in June 2014.

The Iraq Army’s heroic efforts, backed by KRG Peshmerga and Federal Police, in liberating Mosul are on the verge of being undermined by political machinations in Baghdad.  These involve the complicity of the Iranian government as is works behind the scene to establish a dominant political position in Iraq.  Nuri al-Maliki has facilitated the expansion of Iranian influence as part of his effort to return to power.   He has been helped in this process by the squabbling among the Sunni political elite in Ninawa and al-Anbar provinces and political dysfunction in the KRG.

When Iraq’s declining oil revenues are added to this toxic mix, the enormous funds needed to rebuild Mosul and Anbar cities are already a serious problem.  Complaints by Anbaris that promised reconstruction funds haven’t been forthcoming, accompanied by accusations that some funds have been stolen by corrupt politicians, don’t auger well for the future.  With Maliki having effectively blocked all efforts at reform, Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi's power is waning as he loses influence to Maliki and his Iranian allies.

While the Obama administration never considered Iraq a major foreign power priority, at least there was an effort to counter sectarianism and sustain some “soft power” policies, e.g., USAID and State Department funded education projects. The Trump administration’s lack of interest in Iraq, beyond the military struggle against the Dacish, signals to Iran and its Iraqi minions – Maliki and the militias Iran funds – that they have a carte blanche moving forward to pursue sectarian policies. 

Because there are few forces working to prevent the spreads of sectarian tensions, Iraq is ripe for more instability.  In this context, terrorist forces will still find fertile soil for continued recruitment of disaffected elements of Iraqi society.  Thus we can predict the continued strength of terrorist forces in Iraq who will exploit the rise in sectarianism.

Terrorist activity will be reflected in continued suicide bombings in Iraqi cities, targeted killings of Shi’a and secular forces, especially Baghdad, guerilla attacks on the police stations, military bases and government agencies, and efforts to recruit disaffected Sunni Arabs.  Continued political instability will be fostered by state-sponsored corruption and the lack of improvement of social services.

Since the beginning of its attack on Mosul during the fall of 2016, the Iraqi Army has developed significant social and political capital in Mosul, and throughout Iraq, as a result of its efforts to mitigate civilian casualties - thereby increasing its own losses - providing of food and medicine to Mosul inhabitants, and treating inhabitants of liberated areas with respect.  A comprehensive national reconciliation strategy is needed to insure the defeat of the Dacish in Mosul is not followed by a revival of the Dacish.

Qais al-Khazzali
Meanwhile, Nuri al-Maliki has attempted to position himself to return to power through strengthening his ties to Iran and the militias it supports, namely those led by Hadi al-Amiri, Qais al-Khazzali and Abu Mahdi Muhandis ( He also has built a strong financial network, likewise dependent on ties to Iran. (

As oil prices decline, patron-client relations have been damaged. Maliki’s ability to offer politicians financial opportunities linked to Iran provides another sources of funding while forging closer bonds with the Islamic Republic, while creating an extensive patron-client network in Iraq.  While Prime Minister, Maliki privileged Iranian economic and commercial interests in Iraq.  For example, he did nothing to protect Iraqi agriculture. 
al-Maliki with Abu Mahdi Muhandis and Hadi al-Amiri
Already weakened by the UN sanctions of the 1990s and the complete neglect by Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq’s agrarian sector was in a downward spiral even before the US invasion.  Once the US Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) foolishly removed subsidies for Iraqi agriculture in August 2003, using the argument that the state has no business subsidizing agriculture (a remarkable assumption given the extensive subsidies of American farmers by the US government), Iraqi agriculture was unable to compete with Syrian and especially Iranian imports of frutis and vegetables.

While prime minister, questions were often raised as to why Maliki would favor Iranian imports over Iraqi products.  One area was in the production of kiln fired bricks used in construction, an industry whose origins in Iraq can be traced to ancient times.  Nevertheless, Maliki ordered Iranian bricks and seriously undercutting the economic viability of Iraqi brick production.  In retrospect, it is clear that Maliki was already developing his economic ties to Iran. 

Although Maliki has been in the forefront of Shica politicians pushing de-Bacthification, he has concentrated on former Bacthists he considers his enemies, while making alliance with other Bacthists when he finds such alliances convenient. Thus his sectarian policies are clearly instrumental and designed to promote his political and financial interests.

Estimates are that he diverted over $500 billion while prime minister between 2006 and 2014 (  Thus it is not unlikely that reports that he is worth $40 billion are true Iraqi former PM Nouri al-Maliki's wealth is estimated at $40 billion are true.

Sources have revealed that Maliki made his wealth through manipulating the Iraq Central Bank's accounts as well as engaging in shady projects inside and outside Iraq. (  Indeed, one source places Maliki’s among of the 10 richest people in the world (, along with his son Ahmad  who purchased the most expensive resident in the world near Paris for $301 million in 2016 (  All this wealth is thanks to Maliki being chosen by the Bush administration – despite advice against it by many of President Bush’s advisors - to become prime minister in 2006.
The 50,000 sq. ft. estate of Ahmad Nuir al-Maliki near Paris
Maliki’s sectarian policies were bad enough when he was prime minister.  However, Iraq cannot afford another body blow after the Dacish is finally expelled from Mosul, and Ninawa and al-Anbar provinces.  First, the costs of rebuilding Mosul, Falluja, Ramadi and other cities and towns are already beyond Iraq's capacity to fund.  Nevertheless, state corruption continues unabated.  Iraq cannot afford to lose any funds it is able to mobilize for the reconstruction effort.

Second, the populaces of Dacish occupied areas have experienced significant trauma.  Iraq does not have the psychological personnel and agencies to treat even a fraction of those who suffer from a wide variety of problems such as PTSD.  If the Federal Government in Baghdad fails to promote national reconciliation, the job of addressing the psychological problems of those in areas liberated from the Dacish will be made all the more difficult.

Third, the entire education system in areas formerly controlled by the Dacish needs rebuilding, not just materially but in terms of a curriculum which will promote national reconciliation.  Teachers need new texts and lesson plans to address the ambiguity, lack of trust, and fear of what the future may bring among their students.  Efforts to promote trust and reconciliation will fall flat if the Federal Government is promoting national policies which are fundamentally sectarian.  

Perhaps most important is creating new jobs for displaced persons, many of whom have no place of employment to which to return. Thousands of small businesses have been destroyed, depriving many Iraqis of work in areas formally controlled by the Islamic State.

Highway 1 - Baghdad-Amman
The hand of al-Maliki can be seen in the opposition to an American firm, the Olive Group, repairing and operating Highway 1, which runs] from Baghdad to Amman through al-Anbar Province.  The new project would make the highway a toil road and prtoivide security along the artery.  In earlier, more peaceful times, the highway generated $1 billion per month in cargo revenues (  

However, Iran has mobilized its political supporters, including the militias it funds, to oppose the project which would create thousands of construction jobs to al-Anbar.  Iran is concerned that the 25 year concession awarded by the al-Abadi government will give the United States too much influence in Iraq.  Abadi sees the project as one which will help economic development, while entailing no cost to Iraq.  The Highway 1 Project is just one of many indicators of how sectarian politics undermines Iraq’s economic growth and political stability.

Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr
Are there political forces in Iraq which can prevent Maliki from promoting his sectarian agenda?  The coalition which Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr controls, the Sadrist Trend, is the only powerful movement opposed to Maliki and his State of Law Coalition.  Sadr has positioned himself as an Iraqi nationalist and has reached out to Sunni Arabs and secular Shi’a, as well as the .lower classes which form the social base of his movement.  However, Sadr does not have the backing of Iran or much of the political elite (

What is desparately needed is a national dialogue on national reconciliation.  A national conference which brings together politicians, clerics, civil society activists, academics, youth, and tribal leaders is critical to reestablishing the trust needed to rebuild Iraq.  Such a conference would send an important symbolic message to all segments of Iraq society that a new sociopolitical model is on the political agenda.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster
Does the Trump administration have an interest in urging the Iraqi government to pursue a national reconciliation agenda?  Whether Trump himself is aware of or willing to urge the Iraqi government in such a direction is unclear.  However,  one member of his security team, National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen H.C. McMaster, certainly understands the critical need to not see the military defeat of the IS in Mosul become the end of US involvement in Iraq.

Hopefully, McMaster will educate Trump how to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Bush administration was culpable in creating politail instability through the counter-productive polices it followed after the overthrow of Saddam Husayn.  For its part, the Obama administration was guilty of neglect.  

It’s time for the United States to pursue a policy in Iraq which will help Iraq produce a positive outcome.  The military defeat of the Islamic State offers such an opportunity.  Is the Trump administration up to the task?

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