As Iraq tilts towards March 7th elections, there are disconcerting trends unfolding inside the Maliki-run government that portend serious problems and potentially civil war in the not-distant future.
Iraq expert and military affairs specialist Tom Ricks recently commented on Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN that he believed that there was a 50-50 chance Iraq would erupt in civil war, and a 10-15% chance that the growing tensions in and around Iraq could become a regional war involving several of the other major states around Iraq.
Part of the growing trouble inside Iraq stems from the growing sense that politically empowered Shiites in the Iraq Government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are still carrying on campaigns against Sunni political interests.
Recently, more than 500 Sunnis were blacklisted from participating in the coming elections -- many of them former Baathists who have renounced their allegiance to the Ba'ath party and who have declared their loyalty to the Iraq Constitution.
In addition, The Palestine Note has reported and intelligence sources have confirmed to this writer that the Department of Defense is cutting off all supply convoys via the western corridor into Iraq to supply US forces in Iraq. Reportedly, the Iraqi government has stopped providing needed security from its forces along the convoy routes that the suppliers use.
Sources with whom I have spoken state that this cutoff of the supply route is designed to punish Sunni Iraqis in Western Iraq and in Jordan, and to punish the Jordanian government for its efforts to check Iran's influence in the region.
The Department of Defense has not at the time of writing responded to calls about this closure of the Jordan-based supply routes.
The suppliers to US forces from Jordan are primarily Sunni-dominant business interests that Prime Minister Maliki and his political and business allies, including Iranian interests, want to squeeze off.
There are approximately 700,000 Iraqi refugees, overwhelmingly Sunni, now residing in Jordan because of violence, targeted kidnappings, and the previous ethnic cleansing and retribution campaigns inside Iraq.
From the Palestine Note:
According to sources inside Jordan, these vital convoys bringing food, fuel, and other supplies from the Hashemite Kingdom to the U.S. forces deployed in Iraq are being terminated effective immediately.
Jordan was the essential route for the lion's share of goods into Iraq which provided goods to the Iraqi people. These goods also gave a commercial and economic injection into the Jordanian economy.
"Is it just a bureaucratic decision by the Pentagon as the war winds down? Or is this decision being driven and influenced by Iraqi PM Maliki and Ahmad Chalabi?", asked one source who requested anonymity.
Chalabi is an Iraqi politician who served as the interim oil minister and deputy prime minister in Iraq. Chalabi, a former Deputy Prime Minister who was once dubbed as "George Washington of Iraq" but has fallen out of favor, is currently under investigation by several U.S. government sources.
When I called to ask what role Chalabi was allegedly playing in what is officially a DoD action to suspend the Jordanian supply route into Iraq, a leading Sunni political figure reported to me that Chalabi has maintained good connections with Prime Minister Maliki, is working with Iranian government interests, and wants to secure the "supply business" for related friends and allies.
The Department of Defense's action, whether animated or not by Maliki as has been asserted, contribute to a sense that the onramps to Sunni political and economic integration into what Iraq is becoming are being eroded or cut off.
The Kurds seem to be watching with interest -- happy to be supportive if the Iraq political enterprise works and happy to pull back if the Sunnis and Shia ultimately find themselves unable to co-exist.
Last week, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in DC hosted Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani at an off the record meeting. Barzani's comments cannot be offered here. However, in subsequent private discussions, some members of the team expressed overall confidence in the upcoming election process and appreciation for the American role in moving these key elections forward.
Those positives aside, some members of the delegation view with great concern the growing tensions between Sunni and Shia parties, the ongoing intervention inside Iraq by countries in the region, and the barring of otherwise legitimate Sunni political leaders who should not be kept out of the process given the criteria all had agreed to.
The Iraq pot seems to be getting back to a boil.