Iraq barely registers in British politics. It wasn’t even raised in the last two monthly Foreign Office questions in the Commons. Some may think this is a bonus given Iraq’s toxic impact on public opinion. But Iraq is on the mend and we are missing opportunities to help civil society organisations and Iraqi reformers overcome their history and geography to fashion a peaceful, federal and democratic Iraq.
Too many think it’s doom and gloom in Mesopotamia but the reality of substantial and rapid progress deserves to be understood and nurtured. The key is security. Civilian and military deaths are down substantially thanks to the American surge and the growing capacity and confidence of the Iraqi security forces, which now alone control half the country’s 18 provinces. Iraqis have had enough and know, I think, how near they came to full-scale civil war in 2006. And, sadly, sectarian segregation has been completed in some areas.
The Iraqi Government led by Nouri Al Maliki has secured considerable success in tackling the brutal Mahdi Army and criminal gangs. I was part of a delegation which visited Baghdad just after the Mahdi Army was routed in the southern port city of Basra. The reign of terror against women has been halted and oil and arms smugglers disrupted. The “Basra Bounce” has made the Iraqi PM more popular with Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, whose Peshmerga forces played a useful role in liberating Basra.Clearly, Baghdad is an abnormal city. We were confined to the Green Zone for security reasons and stayed a few yards from the Tigris but never saw it due to the thicket of concrete blast walls in place (though travel and contact with people in the Kurdistan region is much easier). We were in Baghdad whilst the Mahdi Army rained down mortars on the Green Zone – this has since stopped thanks to the Iraqi security forces taking Sadr City back and beginning the process of dismantling the militias. The Iraqis also regained control of Amarah without a single shot being fired. The battles for Mosul and Diyala are crucial to breaking the back of the Ba’athist resistance whilst Al Qaeda has suffered a “near strategic defeat,” according to the CIA Director.
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