Rami G Khouri writes: The dramatic events surrounding the intense negotiations for a deal on Iran’s nuclear industry and the sanctions on it deserve immense attention because of what they tell us about two pivotal dynamics in the Middle East, namely the role of Iran in the region and the world and the more mature attitude of the United States towards countries and movements that it disagrees with, like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others. Yet, despite the momentous impact of an agreement on Iran, the dynamic this week that I am watching much more closely is the offensive launched Monday by the Iraqi government to retake Anbar Province from the hands of “Islamic State” (IS). Anbar Province’s convoluted and fast changing condition in the past decade is a sign of wider stresses that plague Iraq, including the province’s successive anti-American, anti-Islamic State in Mesopotamia, and anti-Baghdad rebellions, its gradual loss to IS during the past year, and Baghdad’s current strategy to return it to the fold of the Iraqi state.
What happens in Iraq in the coming months and years matters dearly to the entire Arab world because Anbar’s turbulent recent history and its current condition manifest the most fundamental and crucial issues that still challenge most Arab states, and are likely to determine if they persist as sovereign, stable states. These issues relate to the ability of citizens and state to negotiate a social contract that ensures good governance and equitable participation and life opportunities for all citizens, which in turn would guarantee stability and security, and probably also prosperity, given Iraq’s immense natural and human resources. A social contract that meets these criteria has evaded every single Arab country in the past century — only because not a single Arab country (before Tunisia since 2011) ever attempted to credibly engage its citizens in the process of shaping public life, governance, participation, accountability, national values, and state policies. The test that Iraq and all Arab countries face is how to allow populations composed of several different ethnic and religious groups to work together within the context of the institutions and national integrity of their state. [Continue reading…]