No friends for Iraq
As this week’s Arab summit sidestepped Iraq‘s quagmire, Iran and the United States were getting ready to step in, writes Salah Nasrawi

For months Iraqhas been in turmoil as political wrangles and grave sectarian violence continue to grip the country. A general election is due in few weeks and many fear that it won’t bring peace because Iraq‘s political system has broken down.
National efforts to resolve the sectarian conflicts have failed as rival factions remained entrenched in their positions on a wide variety of disputes, primarily on power and wealth sharing.
This has prompted frustration among ordinary Iraqis who see the chances of defusing the situation peacefully shrink and ethno-sectarian struggle escalates and their country plunges deeper in violence.
So, can world and regional powers assemble enough diplomacy to guide the country out of its current impasse where Iraqis have failed?
An Arab summit in Kuwait this week has ignored the worsening situation in Iraq despite its direct bearing on the regional stability and peace. Far little attention was paid in the summit which ended Wednesday to the crisis in Iraqthan other Middle East issues.
But surprisingly, the United Statesand Iran, the other foreign nation which is accused of muddling in Iraq, have reportedly succeeded in easing current tensions to pave the way for the 30 April election.
While Iran has sent its point man in Iraq, the United States dispatched its top diplomat on Iraqi affairs in what Baghdad media described as separate mediating efforts to solve Iraq‘s on going crisis.
As the story goes the two emissaries managed, each in his own way, to head off further deterioration in the strained relationships between Iraq’s main communities, though there has been no talk about durable solutions to Iraq’s outstanding problems.
First, we read about a USenvoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq Brett McGurk, being able to broker an oil deal between the Shia-led government and the Kurdistan Regional authority that had helped to achieve a breakthrough on the state budget.
Under the agreement Iraqi Kurdistan will export crude via the country’s main oil marketing company, potentially removing a major obstacle in a dispute with the central government over oil export.
McGurk, who shuttled between Baghdad and Kurdistan in diplomacy, said his mission was part of the UScommitments to Iraq under a Strategic Framework Agreement that cleared way to the US troop withdrawal in 2011.
The “US is proud to stand with the Iraqi people, equidistant from all political blocs, as neutral broker and facilitator where appropriate,” McGurk wrote on his twitter account on Saturday.
“The United Stateswill continue to serve as a neutral broker with all sides as talks accelerate in the coming weeks,” Vice President Joe Biden later said in a statement.
Kurdistan Regional Government had insisted to take oil exports into its own hands through a pipeline it built bypassing the central government and.
But a statement following McGurk’s shuttling said it agreed to export 100,000 barrels of oil per day through the Iraqi pipeline network from 1 April “as a good will gesture” until the issue is solved.
Some media outlets also suggested that McGurk was engaged in mediation effort to end a four-month standoff in Iraq‘s western province of Anbar between the Shia-led government and Sunni insurgents.
The USmediation was reportedly involving the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in return for new security arrangements that would give local authorities a larger say in policing the province.
 As for Iran, Iraqi media outlets suggested that General Qasim Soleimani, Iran‘s most influential intelligence official, visited Baghdad‘s Green Zone last week in a bid to defuse an internecine dispute that threatens the ruling Shia alliance.
Soleimani has reportedly succeeded in brokering a tentative truce between Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and other top Shia leaders who have engaged themselves in a nasty war of words in a highly polarized election campaign.
According to different accounts, Soleimani, who supervises Iranian foreign policy in Iraq, pressurized the Shia leaders to mend fences in order to avert the breakdown of the Shia alliance ahead of next month’s polls.
Tense relations between Al-Maliki and Shia leaders Amar Al-Hakim and Muqtada Al-Sadr have been further strained in recent months as Iraqis remain split over Al-Maliki’s attempts to bolster his chances for a third term.
Iran remained tight-lipped about Soleimani’s business in Iraqbut Iraqi media also reported he was involved in attempts to resolve the disputes between Al-Maliki and the Kurdistan Region and Sunni politicians over their ongoing disputes with his government.
Yet, the question remains whether McGurk and Soleiman were actually trying to provide a way out for Iraqor their initiatives were just part of their efforts to consolidate a détente between the two countries following Iran‘s historic nuclear deal last year. 
Indeed, few Iraqis are convinced that Iranand the United States have enough good will to help Iraqending its lingering tragedies no matter what initiatives they are putting forth.
Many Iraqis fear that Iran and the United Statesmay turn their country into a play ground as they are trying to assemble a regional package that could ease the path for a larger geostrategic deal.
Iraqis who see their bickering leaders fail to end the bloodletting and heal a divided nation find the reports about the peace efforts by the two protagonists too good to be true.
The Arab-Kurdish schism is wider than could be bridged by flamboyant diplomacy or self-congratulatory tweets.
Soon after McGurk flew back to Washington Kurdish politicians resumed their criticism of Al-Maliki government over its policy toward Kurdistan. Many Kurdish MPs said they will continue boycotting the parliament over the budget dispute.
Relationship between Iraq’s semi-independent northern region and Baghdad have remained at low ebb since December when Kurdistan completed a 400,000 barrels a day pipeline which will allow the region to export oil independently through Turkey and Baghdad retaliated by cutting off the region’s revenues.
In one of his most scathing attacks against Kurds, Al-Maliki warned this week that Kurdistan can do alone with its oil.
“The Kurds had the illusion that they could control the oil in the north themselves. They believed that neighboring Turkeywould support their plans. But the Turks are not Kurdistan‘s sponsor. On the contrary, they would devour the Kurds in one bite,” he told German Der Spiegel in an interview.
“Kurds only have a future as part of Iraq….. And only Iraqcan safeguard the production and export of that oil,” he said.
Relationships between Kurds and Shia have taken a nose dive this week following the murder of a Shia journalist by a member of the Kurdish presidential guards.
Tensions rose at the scene of the murder after the shooting sparking ethnic fever with mourners and protesters shouting anti Kurds slogans.
Al-Maliki himself rushed to the scene where he stood over the body of the slain journalist and vowed that he would personally avenge his death.
“It is my responsibility to avenge this killing. Blood is for blood,” Al-Maliki told the state-owned Iraqiya television as he left the scene.
Such anger reveals deep-seated hostility which can only worsen the already blazing bickering between the Kurds and the Shia-led government.
Kurdish politicians condemned what they termed as anti Kurd’s chauvinism and demanded that Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani stand up to Al-Maliki.
  On the other hand, Soleimani seems to have failed to achieve a breakthrough in relationships between Al-Maliki and his key Shia rivals. Soon after he left Baghdadthe two camps escalated their rhetoric.  
In launching his group’s election campaign on Friday, Al-Sadr called on all Iraqis to participate in the forthcoming elections to prevent “thieves” and “beneficiaries” from gaining power.
Al-Sadr, who had denounced Al-Maliki earlier as a “tyrant” called on his followers to go to polls en mass in order to prevent Iraq falling again to a “dictatorship.”
It is bloody business as usual in Iraq, where politics is run by rival warlords and greedy political leaders who compete for power and resources.
At the same time, neither Irannor the United Statescan claim that they have a solution to the Iraqi crisis because they are part of its problems.
Iraq needs patriotic, foresighted and honest leaders who should do everything to stave off its collapse with the help of true friends, backed by as much outside advice as the country will stomach.
Unfortunately, as the Kuwait summit and all previous Arab gatherings have shown, Iraq has no real friends who can reach out to during crisis. Tehran and Washington will still be able to fill the vacuum.

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