The United States is in a quandary over the new government in Iraq. While publicly the US backs the new government and calls it a great step forward with a good mix of Iraqi diversity, it is, of course, no such thing.
It is a government designed and controlled by Tehran. It is unfortunate that the west has embraced the new government leaders, Barham Salih, as the new president and Adel Abdul-Mahdi as the next prime minister.
This new government has been hailed as good for Iraq and friendly toward the west, and this is the danger.
The fact that Salih is more of an internationalist than many others and that he is well educated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a doctorate in statistics and computer applications in engineering could cause him to appear to be the technocrat that is touted as what is needed in government.
This type of thinking ignores that Salih, while trained as an engineer, never really practiced the trade but spent most of his life being a politician.
He has had roles in both the KRG and the federal government and has represented Kurdish issues to the west to include being the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative to the United States. He has moved through a number of positions each increasing his power base until he decided that his lifelong ambition of leading the PUK was not to be fulfilled and left to form his own party. When his party failed to achieve significant traction, he abandoned it to rejoin the PUK with the hope of their support for him to be president of Iraq.
Both the US and Iran have hailed Salih as a great choice, yet since the US and Iran have very different visions of Iraq and are rivals for power and leverage in Baghdad, one will be disappointed. When Salih picked Mahdi, it was apparent that the US would once again be on the short end of leverage.
Mahdi is also touted as a technocrat and a moderate with a background in economics. While he has at least functioned as an economist with think tanks in France, he also has a broader background in politics and functioned as opposition to the Saddam regime.
He is a past member of the Iraqi Communist party and then as a senior member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution. In 2007 the party changed its name to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). From the beginning, SIIC was formed as an opposition party in Iran and had a military wing known as the Badr Organization. The Badr organization has since disconnected itself from SIIC but continues to be aligned with them in the new parliament.
The Badr Organization is a political party and part of the Fatih coalition which came in second in the last elections under the leadership of Hadi Al-Amiri. The Badr Organization and Amiri are closely tied to Iran and Amiri have stated publicly that he is close friends with Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mahdi himself shifted his aims since the 1980s to closely align with Tehran and spent much of his time propagating the Islamist ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini.
In their never-ending desire to maintain a unified Iraq, the US has lost sight of what is happening in Baghdad and Erbil.
While he speaks perfect English and has the bearing of a western intellectual Salih is a person seeking personal power and that will come through the executive of Iraq. The US has also worked to have “Their Man” in Baghdad and because he comes across as a moderate they think Mahdi is their man. We have been deceived in the past and continue a process of self-deception through our diplomats in Baghdad.
We need to remove and replace both the current ambassador, Douglas Silliman, and the special presidential envoy, Brett McGurk. The replacement should be someone who at the very least has US interests at heart. A stable region is in the best interest of all but by ignoring the facts on the ground the US is allowing the region to inch ever closer to war.
While war is not inevitable, it is clearly a strong possibility. Iran is a wounded animal and is able to strike out in its final death throws to cause a great deal of harm. Iraq and Syria are in the direct line of fire.
The US will need to decide if they will abandon the region or work to maintain a presence. If the US is to stay as an influencing power, it will need to take a side. It is therefore in the best interest of the US to work with the KRG as an independent entity. It is also important to see how the new government in Erbil shapes up.
Should there be no action by the US to an Iranian-controlled Baghdad, then Erbil may see some form of alliance with Tehran as viable. It’s time for the US to take sides.
Paul Davis is a Senior Fellow at Soran University and a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by John J. Catherine