As if the prospects were not already bad enough, the recent news about Jalal Talabani's health adds up to concerns about the fate of Iraq and Syria.
Though as of Sunday Iraq's president showed tiny signs of a greater likelihood of recovery, nothing is for certain even if he recovered for things in his country to stay the same.
Talabani, known as ‘Mam Jalal' (Uncle Jalal), and also the one who comes to mind when one thinks of the real survivors and best strategists in the region for decades, has been a primary actor in keeping the frail balances intact in the post-Saddam era.
This was a result partly of a miracle. He rose in the disastrous exit of the US from Iraq and took over the post despite foolish American resistance to him. Today, if Iraq still remains in one piece, most Americans who wanted to see him out of the picture should be thankful for him -- arguably still the only political actor to steer Iraq in the right direction -- if he survives the damning stroke.
For some time, also, observers of the region, be those in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey or in the Gulf, have seen their gloomy prophecy about another bad American choice come through. Step by step, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq, has been moving to take Iraq under Shiite control, and in recent months, he has been showing clear signs of consolidating a de-facto alliance with Bashar al-Assad. The stroke that hit Talabani's health certainly creates a huge vacuum in Baghdad and encourages Maliki to take more concrete steps in that direction.
This concerns one objective: splitting the Kurds of Iraq and Syria and enlarging the vacuum of power in the northern part of the country. In this, Maliki is without a doubt in synch with Tehran -- the real winner of the Iraqi war, which wants to devour as much as possible to remain a key player in the region.
Maliki's tool is also obvious: He invests in the rogue element among the split Kurdish parties and groups -- the Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- with the PKK in the background.
It was therefore taken for granted that the following would happen, as Talabani was transported to Berlin: Erbil-based English daily Rudaw reported, “A Kurdish delegation led by Salih Muslim, the head of the PYD, arrived in Baghdad this week and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.'
Although we are “invited to believe” by the figures of the PYD that the parties agreed that “regime change should happen through a democratic process not through war,” other Kurdish actors in Iraq and Syria suspect other shrewd motives behind it. It is not too far-fetched to assume that Maliki, by inviting the PYD to Baghdad, aims to break the authority of Barzani and place the PYD as a potential internal resistance against Kurdish unity in Iraq and in Syria.
Again, Talabani's absence or his return in a weaker shape is as serious as the unknown fate of Syria. His state of health somehow drew both countries' nearer to each other. In both countries, Kurds will have to play a key role and should they fall prey to ambitions steered by Iran, it will be Turkey, Israel, the Gulf and the West that will lose, falling together with them.
Talabani out of the picture helps Maliki as an increasing rogue element, in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. Applying a similar methodology, predictably, he may use the PYD-PKK to export further violence to Turkey and to extend the divisive, provocative warfare to Syria. It will be seen coming.
Nevertheless, the major point is, as Gaza showed, that Talabani also is a reminder for Washington, DC that the dilemma of being in or out of the big game in the region is a very serious one indeed.
‘That Obama's minimalism over Iraq has brought on a succession of lost opportunities is well known. But is the president really prepared to let the situation fester in the country so that he may soon have to defuse an armed conflict between allies, albeit one far more ambiguous about America than the other?” asked Michael Young in the Daily Star.
My question is also direct: Does the USA have any strategy about the deteriorating Iraq? If not, we are all in trouble.
PS: Despite all the gloom, my best wishes to all of you celebrating Christmas.