Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari says the deadliest and most sustained wave of violence to hit the country since 2008 will not lead to civil war.
He said in an interview with The Associated Press (AP) that Iraqis have been close to civil war in the past “and there is no winner, so everybody is pushing the envelope to the limit, but not pushing it over the edge.”
More than 2,000 people have been killed in bombings and other violent attacks in Iraq since the start of April, raising fears the nation is returning to the widespread sectarian-charged bloodshed that pushed it to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Zebari insisted that a decade after the US-led invasion toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq is far better off than countries emerging from the Arab Spring that are struggling to find a new system of government, build institutions and write constitutions.
“Iraq is not crashing,” Zebari said. “The crisis is manageable.”
He spoke to AP on Thursday after addressing the UN Security Council.
Zebari said one reason he does not think Iraq will go “over the edge” into civil war is the success of recent local elections, where Iraqis “voted conscientiously” and “there has been major, major changes.”
Next year, Iraq will hold a general election that could change parliament and the government, now led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“You will see the next election would be the most significant elections in the new Iraq,” Zebari said. “There will be new alliances. The old alliances have crumbled and there could be cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic alliances.”
He also pointed to Iraq’s extremely good economic performance that has significantly raised per capita income.
Last year Iraq became the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, and is now churning out more than 3 million barrels of crude a day. The World Bank expects Iraq’s economy to grow by 9 percent this year, compared with just over 2 percent for the overall global economy.
“The country is really enjoying an economic boom with investment, with oil companies, with diplomatic representation. What is lacks is really political stability, because as long as you have political discord and division, it would be reflected immediately on the security,” he said.
Zebari said the Syrian conflict is also having an impact on Iraq and other neighboring countries, and he urged all countries to support the fight against terrorism, which he called “an international menace.”
He said Iraq has been communicating with both sides to try to help end the two-year conflict that has killed more than 93,000 people, “but in an armed conflict preaching doesn’t help.”
Zebari blamed the paralysis in the deeply divided UN Security Council for turning the Syrian conflict into a type of “proxy war, an attrition war that could be dragged on for a long time.”
He said Iraq does not support any “militarization” of the Syrian conflict, pointing to its inspection of some Iranian flights bound for Syria for arms and its recent halt to all Iraqi flights headed to Damascus, to keep volunteers heading to the war from taking advantage of Iraqi transport.
Iraq is also concerned that arms destined for the rebels in Syria — from the US and elsewhere — might make their way to Iraqi militants, he said.
The Iraq-Syria border even before the conflict was “troubled” and the US helped build trenches to enhance border security, Zebari said.
“But still they are quite open for movement of terrorist groups, or weapons,” he said, though Iraqi forces on occasion carry out operations to prevent militant groups from operating in the country.
Zebari flew to New York from Geneva, where he was involved in talks with senior officials from the US, Russia and the UN on preparations for an international conference that aims to get the Syrian government and the opposition to agree on a transitional government that would prepare for democratic elections.
The conference has been delayed by an upsurge in fighting that has given the government the upper hand, and the opposition’s refusal to attend until it gets more arms and regains the initiative.
Zebari said “it’s not easy” to organize the conference, citing differences on its purpose and problems with unifying the opposition.
The Syrian opposition should have better unified its vision and expelled extremists, he said, “but one should not blame them at the same time for all the failure.”
“What the regime is doing is absolutely unacceptable. Who would have imagined five years, six years ago, a regime to bomb its people, shell residential cities in front of the world?” he said.