White House Photo Says It All

October 29, 2011

The photo released by the White House of the video conference call between President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki tells the story of the differences between the two, including their approaches to the future of the US forces in Iraq and the future of the country itself.

President Obama’s team consisted of nine people including the vice-president, the national security advisor and the commander of US forces in Iraq. Maliki’s team consisted of two aides whose names were not provided by the White House. It would be interesting to find out who in the government, in addition to the prime minister, is handling the US withdrawal issue.

The clear miscommunication and the discrepancies between the level of seriousness of the two sides has turned every issue into an opportunity to score political points against each other and pave the way for greater Iranian influence.

While it is clear that Iraq will suffer from an American disengagement and will lose a lot more than the US if it pulls out without clear calculations, Iraqi politicians have failed to see, or to make the public see, how their decision-making is being influenced by pro-Iranian policies and competition.

The Iraqis should understand that a complete troop withdrawal is a very popular idea in the United States because the sentiment among Americans is: We need to leave this ungrateful nation. We liberated them from Saddam; we helped them create a government, a constitution and a democratic system; we captured Saddam, we killed Zarqawi and many other Al-Qaeda leaders; we helped avert a civil war. And their animosity toward us increases after each and every event.

Some Iraqi leaders are calling for economic, cultural and other ties with the US after the military withdrawal. They should know that it will be very difficult to have those and still be opposed to the US, especially after it was announced that even the embassy personnel are targets.

The Iraqi reaction after the US withdrawal was announced was very disappointing. The entire issue has been reduced to a debate over training the Iraqi Army and whether it is prepared or not, while neglecting to raise the question: Ready for what? For killing Kurds? For invading Kuwait? For attacking Iran? For being a highly militarized police force? Nothing is clear.

It even became a joke.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked in a CNN interview last Friday if his government would help train the Iraqi army.

”I think we should. We should have done it sooner, maybe seven or eight years ago, and they would avoid killing so many Iraqi people or Americans as well,” he said.

The end of the long American engagement in Iraq will mark the beginning of the test to determine what the effort has produced.

As things stand, the position toward the US is either total rejection (as is the case of the Arabs in the centre and south) or total acceptance (as is the Kurdish case.)

Both approaches are destroying the prospects of a sound evaluation of the past and a solid plan for the future.

Even within the various Iraqi groups, each small faction has a different view. They usually say one thing to the media and another in closed meeting, which is probably why Maliki left most out of the meeting with Obama.

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