Iraq is crumbling to pieces

By The Columbia Chronicle

When Tariq al-Hashimi, fugitive Iraqi vice president and senior Sunni official, was convicted and sentenced to death on Sept. 9, it became clear that U.S. influence on the country has quickly faded since our troops withdrew in December 2011, leaving  a foreign policy disaster in their wake.

The Iraqi government, led by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, issued a warrant for al-Hashimi’s arrest Dec. 19, 2011, the day after the last U.S. troops withdrew from the country.

According to The New York Times, a panel of judges accused al-Hashimi of overseeing paramilitary death squads responsible for carrying out more than 150 attacks on political opponents, security officials and religious pilgrims from 2004 to 2010. Al-Hashimi fled to Turkey after receiving word of the court’s decision and remains

in Istanbul.

The deeper political undertones of this trial illustrated the expanding power of Iraq’s prime minister. Al-Maliki has gained complete control of Iraq’s security forces, subverted the formal chain of command, moved the commander-in-chief into his own office and created command centers across the country run by his hand-picked generals, according to The Guardian.

This blatant reversal of parliamentary power reinstates authoritarianism after the U.S. withdrawal. Al-Maliki rejected the U.S. plan of leaving behind 8,000 troops and an embassy employing 16,000, as well as a CIA station of 700 members, The Guardian reported.

It is clear that al-Maliki has been against the West’s push for democracy in the region. By employing a centralized cabinet system that only seems democratic, his tactics are similar to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The current parliament, constitution and election process can be considered void if al-Maliki chooses.

Aside from the factions that have formed following al-Hashimi’s conviction, a broader, more divisive factor comes into play between the two major sects of Iraqi Muslims, the Shiites and Sunnis. Since the ousting of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, the Shiite minority has been seeking to regain control from the less conservative Sunnis.  Serious fighting has ensued, with different Sunni and Shiite insurgents deploying suicide bombers and car bombs to strike fear in the

general population.

The most organized group is Al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to The New York Times. Reportedly, the Sunni group aimed to retaliate after the al-Hashimi warrant by setting off a string of attacks on Sept. 9 in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods across the country that left 92 dead and more than 360 wounded. In an interview with Reuters, al-Hashimi urged the Sunni population to oppose al-Miliki calmly and not allow the prime minister to turn the situation into a

“sectarian conflict.”

This response shows how uprooted Iraq has become since the departure of U.S. forces. According to The New York Times, the increasing number of attacks signals a resurgence of extremist groups throughout the country. Earlier this summer, security checkpoints became more lax, women were allowed to travel more freely and public transportation offered shuttle services to and from Baghdad.  But the insurgent attacks have prompted the government to reimpose security measures and has added a sense of being under attack within the city.

Al-Maliki has been looking to draw sectarian lines among political figures that will encourage massive infighting and weaken the government’s credibility while strengthening his authoritarian grip on the cabinet. According to Reuters, the al-Hashimi case was a clear example of political manipulation of the judiciary by a Shiite leader who controls the

security forces.

Since the U.S.’s departure, social services have become almost non-existent. The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity, clean water  and adequate healthcare, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Unemployment hovers near 30 percent, making young men easy recruits for gangs and militant factions. This was not what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta drew from the conflict when he said, “Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality.”

Our sudden exit from Iraq left the country in a state of increasing conflict, resulting in a political and cultural stalemate. The current situation adds another disappointing chapter to the saga of modern day colonialism acted out by

the U.S.