An Unhappy New Year
Thus Far in Iraq

IRBIL – Iraqis have left a bloody 2006 behind, but the two opening weeks of 2007 do not bode well for the rest of this year.

As the United Nations reported a death toll of 34,000 civilians for last year, the non-government organization Iraq Body Count suggested that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed during the New Year already.

And that count came before the bombings at Baghdad University Tuesday.

The high death toll comes amid heated debates in Baghdad and Washington on the ability of Iraqi and U.S. forces to secure the war-torn country.

Many in Iraq doubt that the current strategies could resolve the security and political crisis that the country is sinking deeper into. They see the factors of instability in 2006 continuing into this year.

“I am not optimistic about the situation,” Kamal Sadi, head of the law department at Salahaddin University in Irbil, a town in the relatively stable Kurdistan region in the north, told IPS.

“I don’t see the belief among Iraq’s political factions and social components to accept each other’s rights – and allegiances go to individuals rather than the state.”

With Iraqi and U.S. officials in despair over finding ways to end the violence, a new large-scale military operation is under way to secure capital Baghdad and the volatile Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province in western Iraq.

The operation follows several others that failed to calm the violence.

The killings have led to an academic dispute inside and outside Iraq whether the sectarian bloodshed has reached the level of civil war. Many in Kurdistan believe the situation is still not too bad.

“I believe there is a sectarian conflict now but there is no civil war since not the lives of all Iraqis are under threat,” Sadi said. “And while weak, there are still some manifestations of the state in Iraq, and unlike the common definition of civil war not everybody is fighting everybody.”

Meantime, the public is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the new government installed last May, and not over security alone. In late 2006, a U.S. official acknowledged that as much as 10 percent of Iraq’s national funds have been embezzled.

“The current situation denotes the failure of the government,” said Rashid Mutasam, 38, a government employee from Irbil. “It has failed to deliver on its promises regarding all major areas of life from security to services to salaries to bringing about reconciliation and peace in the country.”

Sadi shares Rashid’s view, and calls the predominantly Shia and Kurdish government led by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “the worst government of all the three postwar governments since 2003.”

Still others say no political party or figure could bring a magical solution to the country’s problems.

Nasih Ghafour, member of the Irbil-based Kurdistan regional parliament believes that in the current circumstances it is hard to imagine that any other government could do better than this one.

“I agree that this government has not been able to play its role as expected and has been only able to maintain itself in power, but it has inherited the problems created by all other governments of Iraq so far,” Ghafour told IPS.

“There are some who speak of a national rescue government. But the question is on what basis that government should be established? And between who and who? How would it be different from the current government which is a broad-based government of national consensus?”

Like many other politicians and others, he believes the factors behind the mayhem are not solely Iraqi, and that makes the job of any politician hard.

“Iraq’s neighbors who all have totalitarian systems of rule … do certainly play a role in destabilizing the country,” Ghafour added.

Iraq must find the strength from within to withstand this, he said.

“The future of Iraq depends on those who today have power, and specially the moderate forces. The most reasonable and realistic scenario for Iraq could be keeping its unity within a federal framework which preserves the interests of all the components and groups in the country and does not deprive Sunnis.”

Read more by Mohammed Salih