Healing sectarian rift

Updated: 2011-12-27 08:19

(China Daily)

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It seemed that never a day went by without a bomb attack in Iraq after the invasion by the United States in 2003.

That nightmare has not come to an end, even though the US troops have completed their withdrawal, as last week in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, dozens of people were killed in a spate of apparently coordinated bomb attacks, the worst in months.

US President Barack Obama hailed the withdrawal as a moment of success and called the winding down of the conflict "an extraordinary achievement" declaring that US troops "will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high".

Yet in a conservative estimate more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in a conflict that Obama, campaigning in his first run at the presidency, warned would plunge the US into a "dumb war", some estimates put the figure at more than 1 million.

Obviously, it is Iraqi civilians that have paid the price for this dumb war, and it looks like they will have to continue paying the price as peace in Iraq looks unlikely after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, issued an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi, a leading Sunni politician, on terror charges - charges that Hashimi denies.

Though there is no knowledge of which group is behind the current wave of bombings in Baghdad, the attacks again raise concerns about the capability of Iraqi forces to maintain security on their own and indicate more uncertainties in the security situation.

As Obama acknowledged, it is easier to start a war than it is to end one, but clearly it is also politically and economically opportune for the US to walk away from the mess it has created rather than ensuring a more durable power-sharing political structure in Iraq, which is deeply engulfed in a sectarian feud.

In part this is because a united Iraqi authority might not best serve the interests of Washington, which no doubt intends to exert its influence on Baghdad by cozying up to one side while undercutting the other.

According to a survey by Zogby International, a public opinion firm, the majority of Iraqis feel that their country is "worse off" after the US-led war and are concerned about the security situation after departure of US forces, fearing a possible civil war, partition of the country, terrorism, economic woes, and the influence of neighboring countries.

In the absence of US troops, Saudi Arabia and Iran are bound to seek to increase their influence in Iraq, which might add fuel to the already strained sectarian divisions.

The war-torn state cannot afford any more clashes and politicians must learn how to put forward a more accountable and cohesive government that pays more attention to delivering jobs, education, public services, and most importantly security, to the people.

(China Daily 12/27/2011 page8)