Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Al-Maliki's Beard

PressTV's Middle East Today investigates the opposition to a proposed security pact between the United States and Iraq.

Let's begin with a bit of Arabic folklore. An older man took a younger woman to be his wife. She thought the grey in the man’s beard made him look old, and would take to plucking out the grey strands.

The man’s older wife, however, thought the predominance of black hairs looked out of place, and she too reached for the tweezers and started snipping away.

Before you knew it, the beard was totally gone and neither the older nor younger wife was happy.

The moral of the story is, you can’t please everyone – especially two wives – and at some point one has to make tough choices.

This little story is now being applied to illustrate the dilemma facing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, with Iran and the United States, naturally standing in to take the place of the two wives.

The questions is, can al-Maliki pull off a diplomatic coup and keep them both happy?

One the one side, we have the United States pushing hard for a status of forces agreement to be signed by the end of July. On the other, we have Tehran encouraging its neighbor to reject the agreement, saying the presence of foreign troops in the country is the root cause of instability both in Iraq and around the region.

Without the military clout of the United States, al-Maliki’s initiatives to assert his authority over wayward militias within the country would probably end in disaster.

Much of the international effort and budget that should have gone into building a strong national army and police force in Iraq, has instead been spent on effectively bribing insurgent groups with cash and guns to change sides – the Sunni Awakening Councils for example.

But this policy, according to an article written Iraq veteran Lt. Colonel Douglas Ollivant, has only resulted in a competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources.

According to Ollivant, it is an extremely difficult and lethal problem, and one that the fledgling Iraqi national army is ill-equipped to handle on its own.

But the alternative of offering the United States even a semi-permanent military foothold in the heart of the Middle East would not sit well with any of Baghdad’s neighbors.

On the panel were, Malak Hamdan, from Solidarity for an Independent and Unified Iraq.

Ghassan Atiyyah from the the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy.

Aziz Jabber, a professor at Baghdad University.

And on the phone from New York, Steward Stogel, UN correspondent for Time.

Watch Al-Maliki's Beard on the PressTV archive

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