Iraq is entering a crucial period, which could include a coup triggered by disenchantment and frustration with the political class, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist said Monday.
Anthony Shadid, an Oklahoma native and Baghdad correspondent for The New York Times, shared war stories at the University of Central Oklahoma. The lecture was sponsored by The New York Times and the American Democracy Project.
Shadid won Pulitzer Prizes in 2004 and 2010 for his reporting on the war in Iraq, which started with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
UCO professor Terry Clark, director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, said he is proud to be a journalist, and reporters like Shadid are part of the reason why.
“I really believe in journalism. I know many people in this room do, and it’s a critical role in the fact that we’re a free people,” Clark said.
Since the parliamentary election in March 2010, Iraq has lacked an official government. U.S. officials worry that the delay might threaten security gains made during the past two years. In August, the Obama administration marked the official completion of combat troop withdrawal from Iraq.
However, American forces continue to participate in some combat operations.
Monday, The Washington Post reported officials from the Sunni-backed group that won the most votes might support letting Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki keep his job if their top candidate is sworn in as president with expanded powers.
Following his lecture, during a question-and-answer session with the audience, Shadid responded to a question about the future in Iraq, and said there is a lot of talk about a coup in Iraq, that the military may try to take power.
The city of Baghdad is just bleak, one of the most brutal places there is in a lot of ways, he said. Despite the gains, issues with the country’s infrastructure — such as lack of electricity and filthy water — remain, and many blame it on an ineffective government, he said.
Iraqis compare life now with life before the Americans came, he said.
“I think there are a lot of people in Iraq right now that think this situation is not tenable,” he said. “There is an incredible amount of popular disenchantment and frustration with the political class in Iraq.”
Additionally, the military is anxious, which has led to coups in other situations, Shadid said.
“I’m not saying that’s gonna happen,” he said. “It’s just a conversation that’s going on out there.”
Regarding Iran’s involvement in Iraq, Shadid said the countries influencing Iraq the most are the U.S., Iran and Turkey. In some ways, Turkey is working on behalf of the other Arab states, perhaps giving it more influence than the U.S. and Iran, he said.
Iran, being Iraq’s neighbor, has legitimate interests, but it also has acted in ways which have led to a lot of violence and strife there as well, Shadid said.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of providing weapons and financial support to Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran’s influence over the post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq was substantial and growing because the dominant parties in Iraq have long-standing ties to Tehran, according to a 2009 congressional report on Iran’s influence in Iraq.
Regarding Lebanon and the 2006 Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah conflict, Shadid said many fear it was not resolved and may flare up again. Other talk is about how internal politics inside Lebanon are not stable, he said.
Shadid talked about how in December 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a car bomb attack, and a tribunal was set up to investigate his killing.
“Now there’s a lot of talk that this court is going to find that Hezbollah had a role in his assassination,” Shadid said. “Hezbollah is a superpower among the Shiites in Lebanon ... If you have the main representative of the biggest group in Lebanon under siege in some way, being accused of assassinating the former prime minister, I think people see that as an explosive situation.”
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