Saturday, December 9, 2023

US Demands Flexibility from Maleki, not Resignation

An interview with Ali Akbar Assadi, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs

Why doesn’t the US enter into a war with Daesh? Is it because, based on statements made by Senator Rand Paul, one of the influential faces of the US Republican Party, this terrorist group is supported by the US and according to him “We have been united with Daesh in Syria”?

There are two reasons behind the US’ unwillingness to enter into a direct war with Daesh. The first is that the Obama administration’s policy, in general, is defined based on not entering into a direct war with the developments of the region. Contrary to the Bush administration, which pursued an aggressive approach in its foreign policy in the Middle East and sought preemptive wars, the Obama administration attempts to be less involved in the crises of the Middle East. As a result, in 2011, it withdrew the US’ forces from Iraq and did not insist on the continuation of the presence of these forces in this country. In another case, it was obvious that the US was not interested in direct military confrontation in other crises including the crisis in Syria. That is why it did not pursue such an approach with regard to Iraq either. Despite the fact that the US has considered Daesh as a terrorist threat and it is ready to give ammunitions, advice and intelligence information to the government of Iraq, they are not interested in becoming directly involved in a war with Daesh with the presence of its military forces. The other point is that the US sees this issue as going beyond the presence of Daesh in Iraq, because Daesh is not merely the Daesh in Iraq and many of the regional countries including Saudi Arabia and Turkey and some Arab states consider themselves involved in the developments of Iraq. This issue has somehow been transformed into a Shiite-Sunni issue. That is why any type of expanded US intervention could have a negative impact on the relations of this country with its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. That is why they are less interested in taking direct military measures.

During the past few days, some of the news media have talked about the possibility of the US’ removal of its support for Noori al-Maleki and some of them have even claimed that John Kerry has proposed the issue of him stepping down in his visit. Is Maleki still the best choice for the US in Iraq or are they thinking about bypassing him?

The US’ criticisms are against Maleki and his policies and they were increased after the crisis. Nonetheless, the US did not directly mention Maleki’s resignation, because under the present conditions, the change of the prime minister might affect the arrangement and the actions of the armed forces in Iraq. That is why the removal of Mr. Maleki in the short run is a difficult decision and they are not emphasizing that he should step down in a short period of time. But the US believes that the political forces and Mr. Maleki must be more flexible and form the government of national reconciliation through political dialogue and solutions so that they would be able to act more successfully in their military measures against Daesh based on the alignment between political forces.

To what extent would the fatwas of the Shiite scholars, particularly Ayatollah Sistani, and the enlistment of two and a half million people in the army to fight against Daesh impact the US’ approach with regard to Iraq?

The US approach in Iraq after 2003 was to emphasize democratic political solutions. On one hand, considering the fact that the majority of the Iraqis are Shiites, the US believes that it cannot easily ignore the Shiites in this country and doing so would practically lead to the defeat of the political process in this country. Now they consider this point and believe that the situation and the interests of the Shiites cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, they attempt to establish some type of balance between the ethnic and religious groups so that the minorities would somehow have an effective presence and serious participation in the political trends of this country. Certainly, the Maraje’ and the fatwas and statements that are issued impact the decisions made by the US. The US is well aware of the impacts of the viewpoints of the Shiite scholars on the people of Iraq and the developments of this country.

One Republican senator has said that the US becomes less involved in this region because, although Ghaddafi was overthrown in Libya, this country became the land of the terrorists. Is the decision to not directly get involved in Iraq made due to this viewpoint?

The US involvement in Libya was not similar to France’s direct intervention. In fact, they did not become directly involved in Libya as they did in Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001. This is the dominant viewpoint of the Obama administration which is shown in the region. Right now, the US is more inclined towards eastern Asia and balancing itself against China and believes that it is not clear whether the issues will be resolved through their involvement in the Middle East. The reason is that these crises are very complicated and deep and must somehow be coped with.

It seems that the Sunni countries of the region are not interested in fighting against the Daesh forces. Even Vali Nasr, in an interview with CNN, has stressed that the Sunnis are satisfied with the killing of the Shiites by Daesh. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has said that he is not solely able to contain Daesh. In such an atmosphere, is cooperation with Iran the only option?

There is no united viewpoint among the Arab states. Some countries like Saudi Arabia and to some extent Turkey and Qatar consider Daesh as a force which could disrupt the balance in the region against Iran. At the same time, considering the situation which existed in Syria and their failures, they intend to use the Daesh forces at a regional level. Therefore, they consider Daesh as one of the opposition groups and the Sunni revolution against Mr. Maleki and his policies as the reason behind the crisis in Iraq. Some countries are concerned about the threat of Daesh and terrorism in Iraq. Kuwait is one of them which the Daesh forces could rapidly move closer to. The same holds true for Jordan and Egypt. There are such viewpoints with regard to Daesh among the Sunnis.

Could the deepening of the crisis in Iraq force the US to return to this country within the framework of supportive and not aggressive military forces?

This seems impossible. The US will, at most, engage itself in air strikes in order to target the positions of the Daesh forces; unless the conditions change and the threat of Daesh increases to the point that the threat of the downfall of the government would be imminent. In that case, they might make new decisions. But it seems impossible that, under the present conditions, the US would be willing to enter its military forces into Iraq, even supportive ones.

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