As President Trump begins to lay out his policies for the Middle East, he will find a region in chaos -- and impossible choices ahead.
But in an exclusive interview with Fox News, the former vice president of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, said he looks forward optimistically to the president's policies, as he looks back sadly at former President Barack Obama’s errors.
Speaking at his home in central Baghdad for the first time since Trump's election, Allawi is now able to open up about Obama's major mistakes, which critics say brought Iraq into turmoil and which Trump will need to address.
“America has lost a lot of potential friends here in the region. … and this is something that the new administration has to address.”
Obama’s principal error, says Allawi, was his disengagement from a country and a region which desperately needed U.S. support. At a time when Iraq couldn’t stand on its own, Obama left -- leaving a vacuum for Iran to fill. Iran’s new influence, he says, is behind much of the bloodshed.
“When our American friends left Iraq in 2011 they never laid down the issues that would strengthen the Iraqis to face the challenges ahead -- their sudden withdrawal in 2011 without the necessary preparation left us many problems to face.
Allawi, who also served as interim prime minister in 2014-2015, was very clear about Iran’s impact.
“It’s leading to bloodshed, to catastrophes and to wars around the Middle East….It has been a destabilizing factor. It’s destabilizing Iraq, it’s destabilizing Syria – it’s destabilizing other areas.”
This Iranian influence, he said, could be traced firmly back to Obama. In 2010, Allawi won the elections in Iraq, winning the seats, but was pressured by the Obama administration to back down -- in a direct interference with the political system.
“Biden came several times here; in fact, he used to come once a week to convince me to withdraw my interest and I told him we are not interested in withdrawing.”
Eventually Obama got his way, and Iranian-backed Nouri Maliki stepped in. This is the moment Allawi sees as a turning point for Iraq… Today large parts of the army are under Iranian control (via their support for Shia militias) and many state institutions also answer to Iran.
Today another country is also moving into the region – Russia. But Allawi believes Russian President Vladimir Putin can and should be worked with to defeat ISIS.
“I don’t think we should look at competition here between the U.S. and Russia, but rather as supplementing each other, and this is what I look forward to -- what the new administration will do.”
Allawi also doesn’t believe the battle against ISIS is the final one.
“I can see a lot of problems that will emerge after ISIS is defeated because I always say that not only is the military victory against ISIS enough, it needs to be supported by political gains."
Allawi says he hopes to unite Iraq -- Sunni, Shia and Kurdish -- but acknowledges it won’t be easy -- Iraq is engulfed in sectarianism -- and many in the region, not least Iran, thrive on division.
He also hoped for U.S. support moving forward.
“We don’t want to see more American power here, we don’t want to see more American troops here, we don’t want to see more Americans being killed here in this country. But we need the political leverage of the U.S. to help Iraq and to develop Iraq."