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Iraq In a Quagmire

USA has formally declared that war is over in Iraq and it has withdrawn last remaining troops from this country. After 8 years of brutal battles that brought death to more than 100,000  Iraqi civilians, 4500 American soldiers, which displaced more than 1.75 million people and which cost USA $1 trillion (of taxpayers money) – the war is far from over.

During 2005-08 it was common to read everyday in newspapers about a bomb blast in Iraq – the country was pushed into sectarian violence between majority Shia and minority Sunni sects. The chaos also secured safe haven fo Al-Qaeda. After the famous ‘surge’ of troops in 2007 by USA, violence was gradually brought under control.

Under the new administration (Obama’s), USA declared that it would withdraw troops completely by January 2012. The process started two and half years ago itself. But before leaving the country USA made systematic efforts to train, arm and build professional Iraqi army; build institutions necessary for democratic setup. (These measures in no way absolve US of war crimes it has committed and even after troop withdrawal more than 16,000 staff will man its embassy in Iraq – most of them are contractors!! – and it is anybody’s guess who so many of them are needed there)

Shia are the majority community in Iraq and are everywhere in Iraq’s administrative setup. Earlier during Saddam Hussein’s reign, himself a Sunni, his community though was in minority, enjoyed unlimited power. With the advent of Americans equations were changed. Americans put Shia and Kurdish politicians in charge of political and military affairs.

Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is a Shia Muslim, so is the head of Iraqi army Babakir Zebari. President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani is a Kurdish politician, whose community comprises 3-5 % Iraq’s population.

This shift in fortunes has upset Sunni sectarians. Backed by Saudi Arabia they are pushing to establish an autonomous region within Iraq consisting of  Salah ad Din, Al Anbar, and Ninawa provinces.

Meanwhile Iran is playing its geopolitical card by actively helping present government to boost its role as the emerging power in the region (Iran is also a Shia majority nation). And it holds enormous clout in the affairs of the present government, which is resented by Saudi Arabia.

But biggest problem for Iraq will be sustaining democracy itself. It will have  to chose between western liberal secular model or twisted version – authoritative, theocratic namesake democracy being practiced in the neighbourhood.

With a vacuüm being created by the withdrawal of US, Iraq, sandwiched between two ambitious but antagonistic regional powers, will have to bear the consequences of the bloody game that will be played within its borders. Already signs of resurgence of sectarian violence are evident from the recent bombings in Iraq.

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia – ‘who emerges as the winner?’ question, there is a clear answer – that Iraq will be the loser.

For now, Iran has the upper hand. It doesn’t matter, Iraq will still be the loser.