Iraq is still officially without a government since parliamentary elections last April and now Ali-Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric, is insisting that the top three governmental positions, headed up by the prime minister, should be decided by Tuesday. That is when the new parliament comes into session. Though Nouri al-Malaki’s party received the most votes in the recent election, Sistani has made it clear he sees al-Malaki as a key part of the problem, not the solution, which will make it difficult for al-Malaki to stay in power.
The big question then is: Who will replace him? And whoever he is, the bigger question is whether he can garner enough real support from Kurd and Sunni elements to develop a government with some unity, enough to launch a full campaign against ISIS.
The Kurds continue to solidify their status as an independent government, so they do not seem eager to join in, while it is difficult to assess the amount of possible Sunni backing for a unity government, what with their territory largely overrun by ISIS Sunni extremists.
What is happening in Tikrit right now, north of Baghdad, is illustrative. ISIS militants had taken over the city, but now government sources as well as some local ones, report that the army is pushing ISIS out. That is hard to completely confirm, like so much else that is happening there. But there are reports that Sunni tribes, which gave at least tacit report to the take over of the city by ISIS now are siding with government troops because of the brutality shown by the revolutionaries.
A problem in understanding is that there are various Sunni tribes acting independently in various Sunni areas, so who knows what kind of support they might give to a central government led by someone other than al-Malaki? I can’t imagine it to be great, though.
Tangentially, a curious element is that the U. S. now has loaded drones circling around Baghdad whose stated mission is to protect American personnel. How will they be used is one of many curiosities waiting to unfold. Another is the occasional bombing of ISIS targets by Syrian jets with al-Malaki’s approval. Besides sending arms to Baghdad, I’m unclear what support Iran is giving the government, but I imagine it is quite a bit.
So, here we have a situation in which national buddies Syria and Iran, our antagonists in most ways, support the same goal we have and that is the destruction of ISIS. Meanwhile allies Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE have to varying extents supported ISIS in Syria and now…………..well, another curious situation waiting to unfold. Secretary Kerry’s recent meeting with representatives of those countries reflects their roles as “players” in this tricky Iraqi game.
For Iraq not to break into warring segments, the need for a government with somewhat broad support is key, so I suggest you read this article from the BBC detailing the issue . A map of developing events there is worth looking at even if you only glance at the article.
Also, to understand the remarkable success of ISIS in Iraq it helps to know they are led by an impressively capable leader named Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi. David Ignatius has profiled the man in the Washington Post’s: A terrorist with gang-leader charisma. Reading it I envisioned Bagdadi as having the same hold on his supporters as Mohammed himself.