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Is Barham Salih a legitimate president?

While in London for a three-day visit, Iraqi President Barham Salih spoke of a "storm sweeping across the Middle East." Salih once lived in the UK for many years and seems to be enjoying the limelight in a country that has all but turned its back on Iraqi affairs.

Salih and his entourage, including Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, have been quietly feted in London. Salih addressed the Chatham House think tank, met the British Prime Minister, and even enjoyed a private meeting with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The lack of media attention accompanying the visit and the muted nature of the protests against the Iraqi President’s presence stands in marked contrast to the furor and debate that attended President Trump’s visit to the UK earlier this month.

Salih seems intent on using his visit to articulate a carefully honed version of the situation in Iraq. In his perfectly clipped English, he contrives to mimic an understated technocrat hard at work consolidating peace in his war-torn country. In this narrative, he portrays Iraq as an innocent country caught in the “storm" between the US and Iran: “we are right in the middle of it,” in his words. Given that the UK is a key ally of the US and also a signatory to the JCPOA, colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal, the London visit has given Salih the ideal opportunity to burnish this narrative.

However, the veneer of the sincere and harried technocrat who merely has Iraq’s interests at heart is all too often contradicted by Salih’s own behavior. This is endemic among the senior levels of the current Iraqi administration. Its members, like Salih, frequently speak out of both sides of their mouths on sensitive issues and act with complete partiality towards Iran, a country with flagrantly predatory designs on their country.  

And on Iran, the Iraqi administration’s track record bears considerable scrutiny. In April, Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi attempted to prevent the US from designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. He even boasted of an extensive lobbying effort he conducted on the IRGC’s behalf:  “We tried to block the decision to include the IRGC on the terrorism list, and contacted King Abdullah of Jordan, the U.S. government, and the Egyptian government.” Mahdi failed to note that the IRGC occupies a dominant position in Iraq (and Syria) and that it is the conduit through which Iran funds the proxy militias running rampant throughout Iraq. 

This naked fealty towards Iranian interests in the face of US pressure was also reiterated by President Salih in April when he declared that “Iraq would not accept being a launching point for any action that might harm its neighbors.” 

That a president ‘presides’ is a truism. Everything that the administration says or does is a reflection of the incumbent of the presidency. The problem afflicts the Iraqi bureaucracy as well. Just before Salih came to London to give speeches and meet with the Queen, his government announced “enhanced cooperation with Iran in the area of air defense.” That this comes hot on the heels of the IRGC shooting down a US drone would seem to be remarkable enough (since Iraq is, ostensibly, an ally of the US). However, this latest development also signals yet another major capitulation to Iran. Here is the spectacle of the Deputy Commander of the Iraqi Army, Tariq Abbas Ibrahim Abdulhussein going to meet with the Commander of the Iranian Army’s Air Defense Force to willingly cede yet another vital aspect of Iraq’s sovereignty: namely control of its own airspace.  

Yet amid all the grand talk of “defensive systems,” the crucial statement that should have caused the ears of the wider world to prick up was when Tariq Abbas Ibrahim Abdulhussein emphasized Iraq’s readiness to collaborate with Iran, since the two states “enjoy religious commonalities and face common enemies as allied countries.” This language, beneath the technical jargon and diplomatic congeniality conveys nothing less than a blatant sectarian pledge of loyalty that will no doubt ring sweetly in the ears of Tehran’s medieval-minded theocrats. It would be difficult to think of another elected administration in the world that has so thoroughly and eagerly kowtowed to the whims of another country. 

A closer focus on President Salih himself reveals a man who is certainly not a passive player in his country’s relationship between with Iran. He presides over dozens of Shiite militias, who do Iran’s bidding in its ever more expansionist ambitions. Salih dispatched militias (not the regular army) to Syria. He has overseen the establishment of training camps for African Shias and Iraq as well as Houthi terrorists. He has facilitated the flow of hard drugs from Iran into Europe where organized criminal networks have spread misery throughout the streets of London, Berlin, Paris and Brussels. There is no such thing as a benevolent mafiosi and President Salih has many of the trappings of a mafia don, with much blood on his hands. 

Queen Elizabeth is one of the most respected figures in the world. She has met with every American President since Truman.  As a constitutional monarch she does as the duties of state require. Given the controversy surrounding President Salih one wonders why the British government instructed the monarch to shake his bloodstained hand. Surely this is a great diplomatic embarrassment for Britain? 

Questions certainly need to be asked as to how much of Salih’s complicity is known to the British government, which after all sends millions of pounds in aid to Iraq. If the president is truly out of his depth in running the country, then he needs to ask for assistance in bringing Iraq back into the fold of progressive, rules-based nations. But active, willing complicity in Iran’s quest for regional hegemony should not be tolerated.

Yet misery and bloodshed is happening all the time on his watch. It seems certain that he and his entourage are set on a course of serving Iraq up on a silver platter to Iran. Who then does Salih represent? Certainly not all Iraqis. In the coming months, the US may become embroiled in a final reckoning with Iran. In this increasingly likely conflict, it seems distinctly possible that President Salih will side with Iran, a country that has wreaked havoc and murder in Iraq. If so, he also may pay a very dear price for his 

One final question should be posed to the British government: if Salih is little more than an Iranian vassal, why afford him the diplomatic courtesy of a platform, thereby affording him an international legitimacy he scarcely deserves?
Last Modified: Tuesday، 09 July 2019 02:44 PM
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