MESOPOTAMIA, the ancient name for Iraq, means “land between the rivers”. Today, though, the lines which divide the country, not those which circumscribe it, matter most. In the north and south people are emerging from the deepest of traumas into a world of possibilities. The virtually independent Kurdish region and the oil-rich Shia provinces already enjoy peace and a fair, or rising, degree of prosperity. Between them, though, the heart of the country is trapped in ethnic and sectarian strife, vicious political factionalism and foreign meddling. Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, behaves like a mafia don; his bickering rivals look little better.
Ten years after the invasion grandly called Operation Iraqi Freedom, and barely 15 months after the last American troops left, the signs of their arrival and passing are scant. Aside from the giant new American embassy in the capital, Baghdad, the monuments of triumph are concrete barriers and checkpoints, fleets of discarded gas guzzlers and the jarring sight of Iraqi soldiers decked out like GIs with sunglasses over their eyes, night-vision gear strapped to their helmets, laser torches and M4 rifles by their sides. Less tangible but more pervasive are the dashed hopes and unfulfilled promises. “They spent a trillion dollars and didn’t leave us a single building,” sniffs an Iraqi politician who once cheered America’s presence.
That is a bit harsh. Even Iraqis with bitter memories of the invasion and occupation, the death toll from which has never been definitively established, accept that without foreign armies they could never have toppled Saddam Hussein, the tyrant who dragged the country from calamity to disaster over the three decades to 2003. “They lifted the lid on the tomb we lived in,” says Sarmand al-Taie, a newspaper columnist. “It’s not their fault we haven’t completely climbed out.” The Americans made terrible mistakes, yes, but so have we, is a common refrain.
听起来可能有些刺耳。事实上，虽然伊拉克民众回忆起美军的入侵与占领还是怨恨不已，对因此而造成的死亡人数至今没有正式公布而满腹牢骚，不过他们也承认如果没有外国军事力量，他们也不可能推翻萨达姆·侯赛因--在2003年之前的30年这位暴君一步步将伊拉克由不幸拖入到无底深渊。新闻专栏记者 Sarmand al-Taie说，“我们生活在坟墓之中，美军移除了坟墓顶盖。虽然我们没有完全从中爬出来，可这不是美军的错。”美军犯了严重的错误，的确，不过我们也一样， 如此反反复复。
The cities, not long after
Baghdad, where just under a fifth of Iraq’s 33m people now live, remains a maze of compounds and security cordons. On a recent Friday, getting from the city’s old bazaar to Firdos Square, just three kilometres (two miles) away, required a 21km detour. Iraqis endure endless checkpoint queues in return for a lower chance of being caught in a blast or shoot-out. The frequency of attacks has fallen drastically since the sectarian bloodletting of 2006-07, and seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces have murder rates lower than Canada’s. But in Baghdad and the provinces around it outrages still recur with numbing regularity. On February 17th a wave of car bombs in Shia parts of Baghdad killed at least 30 people.
The capital has some new buildings and fancy shop fronts. But they are rare, suggesting that private investment remains a timid trickle. Armies of street vendors plying their trade through the traffic jams reflect the fact that less than 40% of Iraqi adults have a job, and that a quarter of families live below the World Bank’s poverty line, statistics little improved since the dark days of crushing UN sanctions in the 1990s. Asked how many students Mustansiriya University has, one of them replies glumly that there are about 12,000, “which means we add 4,000 to the ranks of unemployed every year.”
Umm Wafa, who with three daughters shares space among 580 other families in an abandoned military hospital on the city’s tattered outskirts, reckons just 5% of her fellow squatters earn a steady income. The house she was forced to flee in the Dora district, occupied now by hostile Sunni neighbours, stands tauntingly close. She gets no state support, and has yet to win compensation for her property despite seven years of government promises. Some 370,000 other internal refugees crowd Baghdad, half in unserviced squatter settlements.
在混乱不堪的市郊，Umm Wafa 和她的三个女儿居住在一座废弃的军事医院，与他们同住的还有另外580户家庭。Umm Wafa估计在此居住的人中，只有5%的有稳定收入。她被迫离开他在多拉地区的房子。该房如今被敌对的逊尼派人霸占，嘲笑般地矗立在旁边。 她没有国家支持，没有得到财产补偿，尽管政府已承诺了7年。另有国内还有37万难民涌向巴格达，其中的一半住在无人管理的棚户区。
A dozen checkpoints and a 150km of potholed highway to the south the picture looks impressively different. New flyovers lit by solar-powered lamps, multi-storey car parks and flashy hotels ring the centre of Najaf, a focal point of Shia pilgrimage. The city’s biggest attraction, the shrine of Imam Ali, is getting new gilding on its dome. A $600m, 56,000 square metre extension, designed by Iranian architects, will triple its footprint. The chamber of commerce boasts of $7 billion of foreign investment. “I’m optimistic about the future of this city,” says Haidar Salman, a professor at the city’s Islamic University, “but not so much about Iraq.”
Najaf’s Shia seminaries, historically pre-eminent, were overshadowed during Saddam’s rule by those of the rival Iranian holy city of Qom. Now they have reclaimed their place, says Sheikh Fouad al-Torfi, a mullah imprisoned by both Saddam and the Americans. Najaf’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is accepted by nearly all the world’s 150m Shias as the brightest light of the age. Most Shia religious authorities, Iranians among them, have opened offices here, some attracted by greater freedom compared with Qom.
纳贾夫的什叶派神学院在历史上杰出非凡，不过在萨达姆统治时期却在伊朗圣城库姆的竞争下，不禁黯然失色。毛拉（伊斯兰教神学家）Sheikh Fouad al-Torfi说，如今这些学院已重夺其地位。Sheikh Fouad al-Torfi曾被萨达姆和美军曾囚禁过。纳贾夫大阿雅图拉西斯塔尼(Ali al-Sistani)几乎被全球一亿五千万什叶派民众接受为当今最明亮的星光。大多数的什叶派当局，包括伊朗，都在该地设有办公室，其中的因该地比库姆拥有更大的自由而被吸引过来。
The Shia Mecca’s revival is fuelled by a dynamic private sector. The same is true of Kurdistan, which is also booming; it even enjoys power 24 hours a day. In the centre, though, creaky bureaucracy, bickering politicians and lingering insecurity stymie Iraq’s progress. The state employs 3.5m people—65% of the workforce—and accounts for 70% of GDP. It relies for its income almost entirely on oil revenues, which now average $8 billion a month. A recent survey by the International Energy Agency suggests exports could double by 2020, though this will not be easy (see box on next page).
In much of the country the private sector is shackled. The World Bank ranks Iraq 165th out of the 185 places rated in its latest index on the ease of doing business; it says that shipping a container in or out of Iraq takes four times as long, and costs three times as much, as it tends to elsewhere in the region. Worse, the bank reports no legislative attempts in the past five years to make access to credit easier or speed the procedures to start a business. Iraq’s lawmakers have been too busy fighting political battles and dividing spoils among parties to attend to such practicalities. The electricity in Baghdad seldom stays on more than a few hours at a time, though new plants are being built.
Najaf and the south are doing so much better than Baghdad largely because the Shia majority there feels satisfied with the post-war settlement. From 1546, when the port city of Basra was captured by the Ottoman empire, to the invasion of 2003, Sunni-led states held sway over the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, although the most thickly populated part of the country, south of Baghdad, is largely Shia (see map). The Shia sense of disenfranchisement peaked under Saddam and his mostly Sunni henchmen, whose notion of nation-building included genocide against Kurds and mass execution for members of Shia religious parties they thought allied to Iran. The regime’s previously indiscriminate brutality took a sectarian turn after a failed Shia uprising in 1991.
Understandably, Shias are tempted to regard their current dominance of Iraqi politics with righteous triumphalism. Since the first democratic elections in 2005, Shia-led parties, many of them with clerical or Islamist roots, have had a majority in Iraq’s parliament, as well as the prime minister’s office. They control local government in nine southern provinces. Ordinary Shias share the Najafi businessman’s contempt for Baghdad’s political logjam. Sunni claims of having become Iraq’s new, marginalised underclass fall on deaf ears.
After the tables turned
Since mid-December mass protests in the style of the Arab spring have kicked off in Sunni-majority provinces to the north and west of Baghdad. The trigger was the arrest of more than 100 men in the entourage of Rafi Issawi, Mr Maliki’s Sunni minister of finance. A similar move by police units controlled by the prime minister forced Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni deputy prime minister, into exile in 2011. In Mr Issawi’s case all but nine bodyguards were soon released, but the arrests still raised simmering Sunni anger to its boiling point.
自12月中期以来，在巴格达北部、西部以逊尼派为主体的省份爆发了类似阿拉伯之春的大规模游行示威。导火索就是100多名拉菲·埃萨维（Rafi Issawi）的工作人员遭到逮捕。拉菲·埃萨维是马利基政府内的逊尼派财政部长。而此前，由总理控制的警察局也有过类似的行动：2011年迫使逊尼派副总统塔里克·哈希米（Tariq al-Hashemi）流往国外。在埃萨维事件中，九名保镖将很快获释，但是其余工作人员依然被关押，这无疑还是会将逊尼派激怒到爆发点。
That should have come as no surprise. Diplomats reckon that Iraq’s myriad security services in recent months have held something like 10,000 people, disproportionately Sunnis, in custody on terrorism-related charges. This is similar to the number once held by American forces. The Baghdad government has suspended salaries the Americans paid to Sunni militiamen. The residents of some Sunni parts of Baghdad are subjected to humiliating searches when leaving their neighbourhoods; on Fridays, days of prayer and protest, they are not let out at all.
Mr Maliki has responded to Sunni protests with concessions, promises and veiled threats. A committee he formed to hear their demands says it has released more than 2,000 prisoners, and resumed or increased salaries for 74,000 militiamen. Despite one incident in January when police opened fire on a mob in Falluja, an ever-restive Sunni city, killing five, security forces have for the most part avoided confronting protesters.
Shia politicians warn that their own constituents are increasingly alarmed by the sight of Baathist slogans and jihadist banners in the Sunni protests. They are terrified that the increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria could create a hostile, Sunni-led post-Assad neighbour. Some speak of the need to rearm and prepare for another round of sectarian conflict.
Mr Maliki, who first came to power as a compromise prime minister in 2005 and then patched together a flimsy government in 2010, bears much of the blame for provoking these tensions. The move against Mr Issawi baffled Iraqi and foreign observers, who see Mr Maliki’s grudging response to the subsequent anger as foolishly inadequate. The grievances of the Sunnis who feel ignored go beyond salaries and harsh policing to a more general anger over rampant corruption and resentment of Mr Maliki’s dictatorial tendencies.
Yet most observers seem to think Iraq can avoid returning to mayhem. Few in Iraq’s political class relish the idea of renewed conflict, says a London-based analyst. He cites as positive signs that Sunni protests have remained peaceful so far, and that calls for the removal of Mr Maliki or scrapping the 2005 constitution, the drafting of which most Sunni politicians boycotted to their later regret, have failed to gain traction. Some Shia politicians, including Muqtada al-Sadr, a young cleric with a strong following who was long branded a dangerous firebrand, have even voiced sympathy with Sunni demands.
If there is no dire reason to fear things getting worse, though, there is not much hope for improvement either. Iraq’s politics are a mess of micro-parties in ever-shifting alliances. In the 2010 elections a centrist, secular-leaning bloc, Iraqiya, actually won more seats than Mr Maliki’s party, but fell to bickering amid the peculiar reluctance of its leader, Iyad Allawi, to visit parliament. The political class’s rejection of seemingly sensible reforms and proclivity for intrigue and factionalism have strengthened Mr Maliki as much as his determination to divide and rule.
Trouble with the neighbours
Mr Maliki’s efforts to control military appointments, his use of state perks to woo defections from opposition blocs, his abuse of police power and his increasingly brazen appeals to Shia sentiment are all lamentable. Yet these may also be seen as natural responses to the pressures on him. “I’m not sure that anyone else would act much different, and it’s not as if the opposition are offering any alternative,” says a diplomat in Baghdad.
Western diplomats are often irked by the blind eye Mr Maliki turns to Iranian influence in the country—but they also understand that it is inevitable. The Islamic Republic sponsors several armed and virulently sectarian Shia factions. It also, to the annoyance of Western countries and Sunnis, flies regular cargoes over Iraqi airspace to bolster the flailing Assad regime in Syria. But this does not mean that Iraq is fully under Iranian sway. Very few of Iraq’s Shia leaders subscribe to Iran’s state ideology of velayat-e faqih, the guardianship of the jurist. And in increasing its oil exports[做状语，其中的its是指伊拉克] Iraq is clearly pursuing its own interests, not its neighbour’s. The extent to which Iraqi exports have steadied oil prices vexes the cash-strapped and sanctions-crippled regime next door.
“We share Iran’s concerns about Syria, but not its strategic interests,” explains Naama Obaidi, a cleric who runs a Najaf think-tank. “And we respect that Iran, which fought a long war with us, and faces big threats, should exert lots of its intelligence effort here.” But while Iraq is willing to accommodate Iran, he says, it will not embrace it fully—unless pushed by fear of its Sunni neighbours.
One of those is Turkey, which has often appeared to consider Iraq’s Shia-dominated government as a catspaw for Iran and acted accordingly. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has repeatedly clashed with Mr Maliki. Iraqi officials contend that their neighbour to the north, which runs a thriving $17 billion trade with Iraq, has promoted both Kurdish and Sunni obstinacy in dealing with Baghdad. A Western official says that it would be hard to exaggerate Turkey’s recklessness.
其中的一个近邻就是土耳其。土耳其常视伊拉克什叶派政府为伊朗的爪牙，并采取相应行动。土耳其总理雷杰普·塔伊普·埃尔多安(Recep Tayyip Erdogan)常常与马利基总理恶语相向。伊拉克官员很高兴看到，其北方近邻土耳其在库尔德人和逊尼派顽固者与巴格达交往中推动作用。土耳其与伊拉克的贸易也蒸蒸日上，达到了170亿美元。一位西方官员表示很难夸大土耳其的轻率鲁莽。
Mr Maliki will probably serve out the rest of his current term, which ends in April 2014. That is not good news for Iraq, but not entirely bad, either. Just keeping a lid on things, as oil revenues grow and begin to percolate downwards, may be a realistic ambition for a country divided internally and surrounded by strife. Muwafaq al-Rubaie, a former national security adviser of courtly demeanour who displays the noose that hanged Saddam in his heavily guarded villa beside the Tigris, insists that Iraq’s trajectory is generally upwards, not steeply so but recognisably. “Compromise in Arabic is a bad word,” he says, “but reaching it at the eleventh hour is one thing we have learned.”