At the onset of 2022, the Middle East ranks first in terms of a chain of convoluted conflicts. Some have been gridlocked for years. But pundits cannot escape making some informed predictions about what the year holds for these conflicts. And, yes, there is a sense of optimism regarding some of them — less than a handful in fact — that could see some sort of a resolution this year. The three that make it to the very top are the Iran nuclear deal, Sudan, and Iraq’s new government.
The eighth Vienna session on the Iran nuclear deal has resumed and all parties are feeling the pressure to reach an agreement in the coming weeks. The news from the Austrian capital is good after months of frustration following the power transition in Tehran. After weeks of guessing, the new Iranian government seems to be moving closer to agreeing to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The reason for this optimism is that neither party has an interest in facing the unknown, including a possible military conflict.
For Iran, the proposal is straightforward: It wants the penalties and sanctions regarding its economic activities removed, allowing it to openly trade oil on the international market. But there are also other sanctions related to non-oil activities that the West, primarily the US, is reluctant to concede. The chances are that the West will give Iran what it wants on oil trading but will postpone any other reprieves regarding its human rights and ballistic missile and drone programs. Giving in on these would anger allies in the region.
It is important for Tehran to reach a deal as its economy is suffering. For the US, any deal would help the Biden administration move on to other issues, as it faces domestic challenges including tough midterm elections that could render Joe Biden a lame duck president. The catch is that, if the Democrats lose their thin majority in the House of Representatives come the midterms, the entire nuclear deal with Iran could once more be in jeopardy. The White House cannot give any guarantees that a future administration will not walk away from the deal.
So, for the near future, a deal is possible, but it will never enjoy longevity as it has become a partisan issue in the US.
There is a sense of optimism surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, Sudan, and the Iraqi government formation.
The Sudan issue has just got more complicated — but that could be a good thing. Abdalla Hamdok this week resigned his post as prime minister, less than two months after he struck a deal with the military leaders to come back as premier. That deal was rejected by civil and political powers and, since November, the Sudanese people have been on the streets protesting the agreement and calling for an end to the military’s control of the so-called Sovereignty Council.
Hamdok has obviously miscalculated and, by aligning himself with the military, he lost his political incubator, the Forces of Freedom and Change, which had led the overthrow of Omar Bashir. Following Hamdok’s alliance with the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, he was unable to form a government of specialists. Meanwhile, the Sudanese people held massive protests that were met with violence by the military, resulting in more than 55 deaths and other atrocities.
Hamdok had no recourse but to resign, having failed to form a civilian government. By doing so, he has put the military in an awkward position. Al-Burhan wants to form a new civilian-led government, but that will not happen. No one will risk facing the daunting end of Hamdok. The military has few choices. It either has to start a genuine dialogue with civilian and political powers that would likely lead nowhere or bow down and accept an immediate civilian transitional government that would call for early elections.
Clamping down on protests will likely see the country slip further into chaos. The military cannot be trusted to hand over the reins to a civilian administration, but it cannot sustain the current situation. It will have to yield in a few months’ time.
In Iraq, now that the controversy surrounding October’s election results is over, Muqtada Al-Sadr has the chance to form a national government that departs from the polarized governments that have ruled the country since the US’ 2003 invasion. A number of issues work for him. The fact that a growing majority of Iraqis are fed up with the mingling of Iran and its proxies in Iraqi affairs is paramount. The street is with the young Shiite cleric. He also has the backing of the largely secular Sunni movements and young Iraqi activists. He is also likely to get pivotal support from the Kurdish parties. Tehran’s sway over Iraqi affairs is waning, but not yet finished. The coming days will test Iran’s influence over Baghdad.
One thing is clear and that is that Iraqi nationalists are in control and they do not want to see their country entangled in regional polarization, especially the faceoff between the US and Iran. Al-Sadr’s chances of opening a new chapter in post-invasion Iraqi politics have never been higher.
- Osama Al-Sharif