Iraq? The Name Does Sound Familiar

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, pictured here with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is often criticized for centralizing his power, warming too close to Iran, and fanning the flames of sectarian tension. But hope still remains for Iraq.

Hey remember Iraq? The mainstream media does on occasion.

It’s funny how a country which once dominated the mainstream media airways only a few years ago is barely mentioned nowadays. One story that did get substantial play this week was the fact that Monday was Iraq’s deadliest day of this year, with mainly Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) orchestrated attacks reverberating around the country leaving 116 dead.

Violence still occurs daily throughout Iraq. And that’s not the only problem facing the country.

The fledgling democracy’s controversial prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is regularly criticized for overly centralizing his power, cozying up to Iran and spurning the needs of the country’s Kurdish, Sunni Arab and minority populations.

Sectarian tensions also remain. Recently Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi fled to the Kurdistan region fearing persecution from Maliki and other Shia leaders who allege the now fugitive politician ran hit squads that targeted rival Sunni officials in 2006-2007. Also, most of the attacks in the country have a Sunni-Shia relation, being carried out, however, most often by AQM rather than more popular, legit Sunni Arab factions.

In addition, the central government of Iraq is still at odds with the autonomous Kurdistan region over oil deal authority and border demarcation, with control of the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk still being sought by numerous parties. Most recently, the Iraqi government blacklisted the American energy company Chevron for making “unauthorized” deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for purchase of stakes in two oil blocks in the autonomous region.

In other not so uplifting news, local banking experts have raised concerns that Iraqi private banks may be failing, the KRG President Massoud Barzani has strongly implied a desire for Kurdish independence, and the number of Iraqis killed by mines is on the rise.

Yet, as crazy as it sounds, through all of this, there are still promising signs of hope for the country.

Most of the violence in the region is perpetrated for unpopular, discredited terrorist organizations like AQM. The full-scale sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Arab that raged throughout the nation from 2006 to 2008 is all but gone. Nor has the KRG-Baghdad tensions resulted in anything but strong words and legislative action.

Iraqis overall seem to be wary of returning to the full-scale, brutal violence of the past, as recent opinion data shows that even many individuals who dislike Maliki fear unseating him will cause instability and sectarian violence.

Further examples of hope arise from the numerous investments in the country as well as the build of the state’s civil society. With praise from the U.N., Iraq recently unveiled its first independent human rights commission. In addition, the plight of women and minorities gets official recognition. But, to be fair, the latter issue (in the case of Izidi article) is sometimes wielded as a political tool for one group to criticize another (in this case the central government against the KRG). Yet, effective republican government (to which Iraq aspires) can often channel factional disputes into greater goods, as parties try to vie for support from different communities (in this case the Izidis).

So, will Iraq progress towards a brighter future? Who knows? But the nihilism that often arises from the country’s limited news coverage is not an inevitable outcome by any means.