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 A zero-sum game for America 

 Opinion — Analysis    
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A zero-sum game for America  9.12.2010  
By Hiwa Osman - for

December 9, 2010

The role of the US in Iraq is becoming less and less relevant, and this is not because of the onslaught of Wikileaks.

Washington’s recent failed attempts to form Iraq’s next government show less interest in the details of Baghdad politics and more concern with finishing what they have at hand.

The eye of the US is mostly on their withdrawal as opposed to the future of the region. Given the fact that this is President Barack Obama’s first term, it is understandable that he is already planning his election campaign and working on gathering numbers and achievement for his re-election bid.

A colleague of mine who is an expert of US policy in the Middle East said that over the next two years, it is best to expect nothing from Obama.    

Hiwa Osman, IWPR Iraq’s country director, previously served as Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media adviser.
The White House will have a quiet year ahead and will only focus on achievements to boost the campaign in the year that follows.

If this happens, the US will be less and less relevant in Iraq and the region. Other players like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will take over. The continued disengagement of the US in Iraq would certainly be at the expense of the US’s status and prestige in the region.

As things stand, the US does not scare anyone anymore. In fact, it is much easier to attack the US than most of our neighbors. If you attack the US, they come after you to see what you want. If you attack the others,
www.ekurd.netthey come after you and make sure you don’t do it again.
If you are friend of America, they ask you to make concessions. If you are a foe, you are rewarded.

In this respect, some in the US think that if they pull out of Iraq they will have more influence. They are wrong.

The gap the US leaves behind would have to be filled with a functioning state able to respond to various threats and challenges, as well as being strong enough to stand on its own.

Looking at the events of the past year and the challenges that lay ahead, Iraq certainly does not fit this definition of a functioning state.

By all measures, Iraq will not be ready by the time the US forces withdraw in 2011 to withstand external challenges and regional actors will increasingly interfere.

The US disengagement would be the start of real failure and Iraq would slip into the hands of America’s enemies and pseudo allies – both of which are making sure that the US image in their media remains abominable. This factor is contributing to the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

For the US to withdraw, they need to leave behind a functioning state and a political process that is able to defend itself and stand alone.

What we see on the streets of Baghdad and TV screens does not suggest at all that Iraq is capable of doing so.

The way the Iraqi government is configured is a recipe for dysfunction. Bringing together opposing parties in the same room is a good start for reconciliation, but not for rebuilding a country.

The new Council for Strategic Policies, for example, will only add another bureaucratic layer to the already byzantine political and governmental processes.

The key challenge for all of us is to separate divisive politics from the management of affairs of state.

This is done by strengthening Iraq’s public service sector and working strongly to promote good governance, transparency, anti-corruption, strong media and national reconciliation.

To be blunt, most Iraqis still need of America’s help. We still badly need Washington to help separate politics from governance.
The less politicized our public service and other state institutions become, the more ready they will be take over when the US pulls out.

Hiwa Osman is IWPR’s country director in Iraq, previously served as Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media adviser. You may visit Osman's website at

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