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Iraqi Politics in Chaos After US Withdrawal

The war ended in Iraq last night, and within moments, it seems, chaos has reigned in the Iraqi Parliament. But while this is almost sure to be used as evidence that the military should never have left Iraq, the events here would have played out at some point, in absence of perpetual occupation. Via Juan Cole:

Only a couple days after US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared the Iraq War over and turned the last US base in Iraq over to the Iraqi military, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has struck against a Sunni Arab vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi. Iraqi police have issued an arrest warrant for Hashimi, a member of the now Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Party. The Ministry of the Interior, which al-Maliki controls, confirmed the warrant.

Three members of the VP’s security detail had been under investigation in recent days, charged with engineering a car bombing inside Iraq’s Green Zone on November 28, allegedly in hopes of assassinating al-Maliki. The car bomb had been constructed inside the Green Zone (a protected area in downtown Baghdad encircling government offices and embassies) which admittedly does point to a member of the political elite. It is alleged to have gone off prematurely. Apparently Hashimi is now being fingered as the mastermind of the car bombing.

If the country’s vice president really is a terrorist, it is a sad commentary on the state of Iraqi politics. If he isn’t, then al-Maliki is deploying ‘war on terror’ accusations to grab complete power for his coalition of Shiite parties.

At the same time, the Iraqiya bloc, the Sunni-dominated party that is actually the largest in Parliament, suspended its participation in Parliament, protesting the loss of certain ministries to the Maliki coalition. In particular, they want power over the security forces distributed away from the Shiite governing bloc, which has tended to centralize power.

In other words, chaos. But the timing of it, coming as the lost convoys rolled out of Iraq, will surely cause those who never wanted to leave to criticize the withdrawal, saying it sparked this disarray. I don’t know that you can say that. This jockeying for power between sectarian forces has gone on continuously since the start of the war, regardless of the size of the US military presence. Maliki’s heavy hand over the security forces has chronically sparked a backlash from the Sunnis. Remember that the government couldn’t form for six months after the elections. It may be elevated in the wake of the withdrawal, but unless the plan was to use Iraq as an imperial outpost for 100 years, that would always have been the dynamic after withdrawal.

What’s more, this sectarian strife is a direct result of our invasion in Iraq. We set this inevitable chaos into motion, without a plan to mitigate it. The story of how the Iraqis outsmarted the US on withdrawal is an interesting one, but the fact remains that Iraq is where it is today because of US involvement, though after the fact, we are unable to influence events in the manner that many expect.

The AP tracked down the last soldier to die in Iraq, David Hickman of North Carolina. He remains the last American military member to die for a mistake. Extending the presence would only have prolonged the pain.

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David Dayen

David Dayen