IRAQ: Parliament Procastinates on Selection of Prime Minister

Today I thought we might have a new prime minister in Iraq, but the parliament wound up not having a quorum and putting off meeting for another week.   Parliament had a quorum when they began to meet, but after a 30 minute break, they lost it as 90 members did not return.   According to CNN the speaker of the parliament said:  ‘”We are going to postpone because of an urgent matter,’…..  (but) he did not say what the urgent matter was, and it was not immediately clear what happened.”

Map of Iraq, where Yahya ibn Umar conducted hi...

Map of Iraq   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clear as mud, right?  But clearly not a  good sign, with the possibility of a decision as to prime minister dragging on and on.   How can a united front be developed to oppose ISIS when they can’t even form a government?

Government sources report successes of the military against ISIS, but these reports have often conflicted with reports of individuals on the ground, so the actual success of al-Malaki’s forces is open to question.

They did receive about a dozen fighter jets from Russia recently and expect them to join the fight over these next few days.   But while the ISIS tide might be stemmed for now, a likely lame duck al-Malaki is not someone who inspires troops to risk their lives while facing fanatics as their frequent collapse in recent weeks reflect (yes, I know that many of them were soldiers of Sunni ethnicity, the least likely to want to fight, but troops of all stripes fled right along with them).

While Baghdad is shilly shallying an ISIS  spokesman declared themselves the  rightful leader of all Muslims Sunday.  You have to be impressed by their audacity if nothing else, as this puts them squarely at odds with all sorts of other Muslims, including many Sunni’s who might hate al-Malaki but are not ready to submit to this new caliphate, meaning a Muslim empire like in the good old days of Mohammed.  And then there is what once was their parent organization Al-Queda, which disowned them back in February because they would not follow orders.

Imagine this:  Al-Queda and the U. S.  have a common enemy.  It almost seems it has become ISIS, or the Islamic State, what they want to be called now, against the world.    With Russia supplying jets to Baghdad, Syrian jets attacking some of the ISIS strongholds, Iran sending munitions and and I don’t know what else, and also a little help from us, with likely more to come if they could form an inclusive government……  Can you imagine a meeting somewhere between a CIA guy with representatives of all of those entities to establish some sort of communication so at least they don’t trip over each other in their efforts to crush ISIS?   Well probably not including Al-Queda, but we are reaching bizarro world at this point.

On the surface one would think the “Islamic State” has bit off more than it can chew, but while its actions have produced many enemies, they undoubtedly are  attracting many true believers willing to die for the grand vision of a restored caliphate.  With a chaotic government situation in Baghdad and the odd assortment of backers indicated above, much havoc seems likely in Iraq’s near future to say the least.  And where might it spread?

Check out this CNN report for more details on the current situation including links to other sources at the bottom of the article.  One is to a series of maps which help clarify the struggle.  And one of the maps shows where oil is distributed throughout the country, mostly in Shia and Kurd territories, which would be a sticking point if the three major groups could come to the conclusion  of breaking the country apart.


IRAQ: Approaching Tuesday’s Selection of a New Prime Minister

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.

English: Ali al-Sistani

English: Ali al-Sistani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Welcome to the The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

Otherwise known as ISIS.   If you haven’t noticed before this is a group that has become a major player in the Syrian conflagration, a sort of offshoot of Al Queda, while at odds with them, because, if you can believe this, they are supposedly even more vicious and religiously extreme.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Iraqi...

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after a joint press event on Camp Victory, Iraq, April 7, 2009. Obama spoke to hundreds of U.S. troops during his surprise visit to Iraq to thank them for their service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their organizational name seemed delusional until they sent Iraqi government troops packing from Mosul a couple of days ago, this despite there being about 30,000 troops and only about 1000 Isis revolutionaries.   Yes, really, 30-to-1 and the government troops had the big equipment.  The ground was littered with Iraqi uniforms, abandoned like the city.

So much for years and billions invested in training.  No matter how well you train troops to fight better, it won’t work if they are not inclined to fight at all.   At least without being bolstered by American soldiers when facing dye hard foes like ISIS.

In the process the government troops left so much equipment behind (that we bought for them of course), that the revolutionaries are now even more formidable, supported even further by some 400 million bucks apparently liberated from a bank (or banks) in the process.

Now what?   Well, of course, for John McCain the first step is to blame President Obama’s team for, first, pulling out all troops from Iraq a few years ago, and recently for not recognizing sooner the dangers posed by ISIS in western Iraq.   As for the first point, while the Obama administration might have done a better job in negotiating an ongoing American presence of 10,000 troops or so, the majority sentiment in Iraq was for we “liberators” to leave and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not eager for us to stay, especially as the Obama team kept pushing him for a more inclusive government, meaning more Sunnis in particular, something he had no intention of doing as later events have shown.    The reverse has been more the case.

If you want more on al-Malaki’s role, go to this Washington Post editorial by Fareed Zakaria.

And given the way the Iraqi troops folded in Mosul, it is hard to say what a continued American presence might have shored up.  The al-Maliki government seems not one to inspire risking one’s life.   If you want to delve into the negotiations involved in the American troop pull out, go to this New York Times article of September 2012.

McCain’s other point about recognizing the growing danger posed by ISIS, well, yes they were making waves in western Iraq, but I doubt if anyone could have imagined the ease in which the government troops were routed given their overwhelming superiority in numbers.

That is what is so stunning about all of this.   And added to that mind boggling event is the fact that now the Iranians and us have a common interest in shoring up the al-Maliki government, as they have close ties with Iraq as fellow Shia dominated nations and don’t want the Sunni dominated ISIS to thrive any more than we do.

Talk about strange bedfellows.  To say the least, this should get interesting and perhaps more and more unsettling.