Congress Sends Wrong Message to Iraq

by , May 24, 2010

After more than 19 years of war, including seven years of occupation, the U.S. Congress still does not grasp domestic politics in Iraq. This week, the House passed a resolution asking the State Department to establish U.S. consulates in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, as well as in “other regions” in the country. This resolution isn’t binding, but it still sends the wrong message to Iraqis.

The resolution claims it is important to establish such consulates to “facilitate more governmental” missions between the U.S. government and the government in the Kurdish region. Although this move might seem a mere technicality from the U.S. side, it is very controversial in Iraq. The people of Iraq will see such a consulate as a U.S. attempt to undermine the authority of the central government in Baghdad and establish direct diplomatic relations with the regional Kurdish government.

In addition, there is no such a thing as “other regions” in Iraq. There was an attempt to dissolve the central government and create a “Sunnistan” and a “Shiastan,” but an overwhelming majority of Iraqis rejected such attempts to partition the country into thirds. Even the Kurdish region’s powers are still contested and under debate: some Iraqis want the autonomous region to be a confederation with a wide range of authorities, and others want the region to stay under the economic and military control of the central government. In fact, anything that supports sectarian/ethnic regional governments is extremely explosive in Iraq. It is as controversial inside the war-torn nation as it was here in the United States in the period before the Civil War, when certain states were trying to undermine the authority of the central government.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in the beltway, the ongoing Iraqi domestic conflict has more to do with political differences and less to do with sectarian and religious hatred. The latest election in Iraq was another example of how some Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds with nationalist tendencies work together, and how other Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds with separatist agendas collaborate.

More importantly, Iraqis believe the United States has been meddling in the conflict by taking sides. For instance, a few years ago, Iraqis viewed the Biden-Brownback resolution, which promoted partitioning Iraq into three regions, as evidence of the United States backing separatist Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, and Christians against the nationalists who prefer to keep a strong central government and are against the demographic partitioning of the nation. But President Obama has been maintaining a hands-off policy that avoids interfering in Iraq’s domestic issues – especially during this sensitive transitional time when Iraqis are trying to form their next government.

Passing this controversial resolution, on the other hand, might complicate the efforts of Iraqis to form the new government. Congress should spend more time playing its oversight role to ensure we get out of Iraq in accordance with the bilateral security agreement, and less time interfering in Iraq’s domestic issues. 

Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy In Focus.