While Nouri al-Maliki (a Shia) reels from being over-run by ISIS, its worth noting how he and The White House can formulate a coherent policy to bring Iraq back from the brink.
Absent renewed ‘boots on the ground’, the only policy team Obama can field is the partition of Iraq.
The Kurds can seek a referendum and their eventual independence, but it should be done in conjunction with Iraq’s central government.
Two dominant Shiite blocks in the newly elected parliament have agreed to replace al-Maliki, one is the bete-noire of the US, Ahmad Chalabi, the two other candidates are Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr. Together these three blocks account for over 40% of the seats in Parliament. If backed by Kurds and Sunni’s they could form a new government.
The most prominent intelligence the US is receiving of the actual balance of Sunni regional power is diffused. ISIS has taken Iraq’s number 3 city Mosul. However, the diffused Sunni ascendancy hasn’t centralized yet.
One is called the ‘Islamic State’ or Da’esh, there are four others. Ansar al-Islam (Victors of Islam) financed by oil rich Arab allies. Another is Naqshabandiyah, a Sufi movement with allies in Turkey and throughout Central Asia. This group played an important role in working with Petraeus to calm the Sunni revolt in 2006-7. A third group consists of men from Saddam Hussein’s army and security agencies, namely the Ba’ath Party. Finally, we’ve got the Military Tribal Council which can field about 40,000 armed men. This council was instrumental in achieving peace throughout the Sunni triangle under Petraeus.
How did the American surge work?
The success of the surge was largely due to its political nature. It crafted a national regional consensus among rival Iraqi factions. That consensus expressed an 18 Point National Accord reassuring Shiites and Kurds while addressing Sunni grievances, whom have lead Iraq since 1921. A U.S. commitment to ‘stand ground’ was seen by Sunni tribes as a guarantee that the accord would be respected.
When Obama quit Iraq, those guarantees ended.
Nouri al-Maliki seized his chance to ignore the accord and pursue a purely sectarian political strategy. He persuaded Iran to abandon its Shia regional allies, the Hakim & Sadr families in favor of supporting his own personal rule.
What policy should Washington immediately pursue now?
Team Obama should heighten its diplomatic profile, appoint special emissary to revive US contacts throughout Iraq, notably in the Sunni triangle for the express purpose of reviving the National Accord.
The White House could deploy reliable regional allies like Turkey, Jordan and the House of Saud to isolate extremists peeling off willing tribes. As for the Shiite and Kurdish fronts, D.C. should throw its support behind any candidate that can win majority support in Parliament.
The Iraqi experiment in Democracy is fragile and young. But the American’s have ample opportunity to apply scope to an increasingly fractious nation.