The United States' military participation in the 22 combined checkpoints across the disputed territories in northern Iraq formally ended on August 1. This was an important event because peacekeeping and conflict prevention in Kirkuk and other territories disputed between Baghdad and Erbil have frequently been cited as among the key stabilizing roles that the U.S. military plays in Iraq. And the tripartite Combined Security Mechanism (CSM) of the U.S. military, Iraqi Army, and Kurdish peshmerga did increase coordination between Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces while serving as a credible crisis management mechanism. It now faces a leap into the unknown without the U.S. glue that has held it together so far.
Will the phasing out of the U.S. role mean, as one leaked U.S. intelligence report suggested, that without strong and fair third party influence tensions along the Arab-Kurdish line may quickly turn to violence? Or is too much being made of the transition in what was always intended to be a temporary mechanism?
The answer is a little bit of both. It is unlikely that the U.S. troop withdrawal will lead directly to a conventional military blowout between the Iraqi Army and peshmerga. In all probability, conditions in most disputed areas will be steady on a day-to-day basis. But its withdrawal will make the situation less stable. The CSM has been a failsafe to prevent episodic crises in individual hotspots from spiraling out of control. Its removal makes the next miscalculation or local standoff more difficult to defuse and potentially graver in its consequences. There almost certainly will be such testing events as the parties jockey to create facts on the ground.
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Last Sunday was both a potent reminder of the horrific power of ethnic nationalism and the redemptive quality of multi-ethnic democracies -- lessons that we should be applying to one of the last great moral sores of our time, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory and the Israeli-Arab conflict. On Sunday, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, world leaders joined 60,000 Bosnians to pay tribute to 775 more Bosnian Muslim victims of the Srebrenica massacre fifteen years ago, whose remains have been identified. Those whose nations or institutions shared responsibility for the massacre were in attendance. The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, appeared in a brave act of national repentance and a former and respected colleague of mine, Andrew Gilmour, was there to represent the United Nations Secretary General.
Simultaneously, the World Cup's championship match got under way in the multi-racial democracy that is now South Africa. Earlier, Nelson Mandela, the first president of a free South Africa, showed up briefly to be welcomed by tens of thousands of jubilant fans.
One day later in Jerusalem, in sharp contrast and mundane by comparison, the Israeli municipal planning committee in the city approved another 32 settlement units in the Arab eastern half of the city. As Elisha Peleg, a member of the committee put it, "[w]e will continue to plan and build in every neighborhood in this city and we will not allow external forces to intervene." (Presumably, he was referring to President Obama.) And today, in an equally symbolic move, Israel also ended its unofficial ban on destroying Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem.
In the conflict studies courses I teach, I expose my students to theories that claim state-sanctioned inequality is a source of perpetual conflict. I know this to be true not only from my academic research, but from personal experience: I also run a small research institution in the northern Israeli city of Haifa that focuses on the status of the Palestinian citizens in Israel and their relationship with the state. This population, with the silent complicity of the United States, has long been the target of official state policies of discrimination.
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As the news broke that his cross-sectarian alliance was leading last month's parliamentary election with 91 seats, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was seen on television, grinning and receiving well-wishers in his Baghdad headquarters. His supporters took to the streets, jubilantly dancing and exchanging congratulatory embraces. It was, however, a short-lived victory. Since election day, there has been little reason for either the leaders of his coalition, al-Iraqiyya, or the 2,851,823 voters who endorsed the alliance, to celebrate.
The ongoing deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has led some to turn to radical solutions to resolve the crisis, in ways which could redraw the Israeli political map entirely.
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