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‘Elections, foreign involvement unlikely to improve situation in Iraq’

Published time: April 29, 2014 11:50
An Iraqi policewoman casts her ballot at a school in Baghdad on April 28, 2014 (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

The only way to improve situation in Iraq is through creation of true national unity inside the state that recognizes different religions and ethnicities, ensures that they have the stake in the political process,anti-war activist Eugene Puryear told RT.

RT: Sectarian and terror violence is plaguing Iraq, while the government's efforts to contain it seem to have failed. Why is that?

Eugene Puryear: The fact right now in Iraq is that we see something like confessional system set up by the US occupation. They essentially did everything they could through the invasion to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines, so there is no real national government, even though Maliki is allegedly the head of government of the entire country, it’s clear that there is a number of sectarian and ethnic divides that exist inside of the country that are not bridged to political process.

So when the government acts, even if it claims that it is acting in the name of security, is in fact to the people in the west and people in the north often appears to be acting in the way that is oppressive or very dictatorial and not in a way that builds peace or consensus.

What we are seeing here is continued fruits of the US invasion that destabilized the country and the failed attempt to rebuild the country on the different auspices first with the colonial government and then later with the elections. That certainly did not solve any problems but exacerbated the existing tensions.

RT: Can we expect even more violence on Wednesday, April 30, when the general public will head to polling stations for the first nationwide elections since the withdrawal of the US forces?

EP: It’s certainly possible but I hope not. It seems to be forces who use violence to make a political point. And we see that tensions in the country have been high for some time now and it’s unclear what exactly will happen but it is certainly possible that there could be violence and that with incidents that happened on Monday there is a prelude that certainly seems to point towards the fact that there could be more violence inside the country.

RT: Do you think the forthcoming elections are likely to change the situation on the ground?

EP: I don’t think so. I don’t think this election gets to the heart of the matter which is really a divide between different forces inside of the country, somewhere regionally but to a larger extent [around] sectarian, ethnic and religious lines. I don’t think certainly the election process has done anything to solve that so far, and we see that Maliki government has even deepened that in so many ways. So this election would continue to the same state of affairs that we have seen in the post-occupation face of Iraq, where the divides are not bridged by the elections and in fact violence continues as different fractions fight it up.

A victim of a bomb attack, which occurred in Khanaqin, is wheeled on a gurney into a hospital in Sulaimaniya April 28, 2014. (Reuters / Yahya Ahmad)

RT: Is there any solution for Iraq to stop the bloodshed?

EP: The only way we can do is to have true national unity inside of the country and this is of course very difficult because the American occupation raised tensions to such a high level. But what we have to see is the solution that bridges the gap, that recognizes that there are number of different people, religions and ethnicities inside of Iraq, that they all have to have the stake in the political process. The only way we can do that is to have a true national solution for a political force to emerge that is able to speak to all the different communities and certainly speak to them in such a way that their needs and desires are taken into account.

As long as we see politicians and political forces acting simply for narrow game by focusing on the lowest common nominator that is religious sector or ethnicity, then we will continue to see that there is no really just a religious sect in this case primarily but also ethnicity with the Kurds in the north. We will not be able to see any sort of true solution for this issue.

RT: Do you think that with more international help the country would've been better off?

EP: It depends on what the nature of that support was. There is quite a bit of international hope that came in the form of the military intervention and occupation. I think certainly that more international aid probably wouldn’t have solved the problem started by the occupation because the occupation created this problem of breaking the country apart and destabilizing the country. Had there been more international cooperation at the stages leading up to Iraq war in 2003 to avert war, we certainly wouldn’t have seen some of this happening. Once the occupation came in, the international forces are not going to be able to impose the situation on the outside. It’s going to be an internal Iraqi solution that has a national character.

RT: Is progress towards a peaceful Iraq even possible with a Syrian civil war being waged by terrorists, amongst others, right across the border?

EP: It certainly does make things worse, it created much more fertile ground for those, I guess some call them Al-Qaeda-type Islamists, Salafists, whatever you want to call them, it created more fertile ground for them to be able to recruit and draw forces in, to pursue their own political goals which don't at all involve being engaged into political process, but essentially waging war against Syrians and Iraqi state.

What we have seen here is that in Syria the US and other Western powers have stocked these groups by continuingly funding the occupation, which makes the security situation in Iraq more precarious as you have more weapons, logistics and other types of support flowing in to support Syrian rebels, many of whom are in these Islamist camps and ultimately create a very deadly situation because not only there is a violence across the border, but there is also support coming from the most powerful nations on Earth in terms of money, material and war machines that are going in there, making it much more difficult for the problems in Iraq to be contained.

People walk past campaign posters for Iraq's parliamentary elections in Sulaimaniya April 28, 2014. Picture taken April 28, 2014. (Reuters / Yahya Ahmad)

RT: And vice versa, do you think terrorists in Syria are fuelled by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Iraq?

EP: Certainly. We have seen the groups unify across borders over the past several years here, so we can see that there is a shared emphasis among the number of these groups that fight under Al-Qaeda umbrella or under Al-Qaeda-affiliated umbrella whether in Iraq or Syria or any country around the world, there is a unified desire of these forces to go where the action is. This is original problem, not simply the one that is Iraqi or Syrian.

RT: What kind of goals do those groups pursue?

EP: It’s difficult to say, it seems that their goal is to create as much chaos and as much violence as possible in order to, I would assume, get other forces who disagree with them, to essentially bow to their dictate in order to stop the violence and completely submit and completely give in to what they want. So it seems to be a sort of pure terror strategy that tries to force others either to flee the region or completely submit to the dictate of these forces.

RT: Who is to blame for the situation? The international community or maybe the US in particular?

EP: I think they mostly are to blame. I don’t know what the US can do, what the international community can do. We’ve seen the US and other Western nations send a number of drones, hellfire missiles and things of that nature to Iraq. And in fact it just exacerbated the tensions against the Iraqi government and further inflamed the political situation there.

I think it’s very difficult for international forces to have some sort of effect because the political lines are drawn so sharply that when they come down on the side of the government, even those forces who are not in favor of Al-Qaeda, often take a negative view of the government action in the area, especially in Iraq, either towards civilians or sometimes is explicitly aimed at destabilizing groups that are not at the Al-Qaeda focused.

In Syria you have the situation when they are actually supporting many of the forces who embrace Al-Qaeda umbrella groups. The international community really needs to take a step back, not a step forward. Its attempts to assist by choosing sides in this have really only further sharpened the lines of contestation. If anything we need to take a step forward is towards trying to develop conciliatory diplomatic frameworks to attempt to provide a way for this forces inside of these nations to resolve their issues.

What we have seen in the past several years has been the civil war in Syria and the creation of these Al-Qaeda-related umbrella groups in Syria that are funded by the US and other Western nations has trickled over into the border and given even a new lease on life to these groups inside of Iraq, who previously had been more dormant and now are able to get more guns, more men, more money to carry out their goals.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.