TOPICS: US ‘divide and rule’ tactics shortsighted

Five years since US president George W Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech, critics say the administration has yet to show a credible way to actually “accomplish” the mission that could see a peaceful Iraq and a return home of US troops. Though the 2007 revamping of the counter-insurgency strategy, known as the “surge”, has markedly reduced violence, political turmoil and ethno-sectarian strife still plague Iraq. The US surge and its positive developments did create political space, but meaningful moves towards comprehensive political accords and reconciliation have yet to follow, said a pair of new reports from the International Crisis Group (ICG).

For example, the Sunni awakening, or Sahwa movement, that helped to slow violence in much of Baghdad and Anbar province by bringing in former insurgents and incorporating them into US-funded militias, for example, leaves a new Sunni political landscape. But that landscape, with all of its advantages for bringing stability — and thereby aiding the US occupation — has failed to transition into the politics of the Iraqi central government. Frustration with those failures creates a tense atmosphere that even US officials acknowledge as being “fragile and reversible”.

“Tribal elements and former insurgents may become disillusioned with lack of political progress, inadequate steps toward economic and social inclusion, and what they perceive as continued dominance by Iran and its Shiite proxies,” said the first IGC report, Iraq After the Surge I: The New Sunni Landscape.

So while the larger insurgent-US battles and wider Sunni-Shia fighting have abated, the new, smaller, more subdivided groups continue to bump heads. The US policy of tending to choose between these groups with either economic or military support, said the report, does not constitute meaningful steps towards political reconciliation. The IGC report notes that the US “divide-and-rule tactics” reinforce the new fault lines in society, and by benefiting only one group, create resentment among the others.

“Ultimately, stability will require that such rivalries be mediated neither through violence nor buy-off, but by functional, legitimate state institutions,” said the report. That, in turn, requires the US to support “an inclusive political system”.

The second report, Iraq After the Surge II: The Need For a New Political Strategy, ICG recommends that the Iraqi government hold provincial elections on the original schedule of Oct. 1, 2008, and “ensure that these are inclusive of all parties, groups and individuals that publicly accept non-violence.” This runs contrary to the law before the Iraqi parliament, and would allow incorporation of Sadrists into above-board politics. Nearly all observers agree that action needs to be taken soon in the relative calm provided by the US surge strategy.

“There is reason to fear this is only a temporary salve and that underlying issues will again come to the fore,” said the IGC report. “Whatever political space the surge tore open is likely to narrow once again.” — IPS