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Iraqi Political Crisis Deepens — And That is the Good News

Many wondered how the Iraqi government would survive after the last U.S. troops left the country. Thus far, the signs are mixed: Parliamentary institutions are working, sort of, but a lot of the political wrangling is taking place on the streets in the form of violence among militias rather than arguments among political factions.

On the parliamentary side, Reuters reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s opponents are attempting to pass a vote of no confidence against him and are calling on him to answer questions about alleged constitutional violations:

The parliamentary measure and popular unrest are turning into a major test for Maliki, a Shi’ite nationalist whom many Sunni leaders accuse of marginalizing their sect and amassing power just a year after the last U.S. troops left.

Maliki’s rivals among Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish blocs remain sharply divided, and failed last year to win required approval from the president or support in the 325-member Council of Representatives for a vote of no confidence.

The parliamentary wrangling reflects the anger of the Sunni population, many of whom took to the streets to protest last month’s detention of 150 of Rafa al-Issawi’s bodyguards. Issawi is one of Iraq’s leading Sunni politicians and a high profile Maliki opponent.

When politicians have 150 “bodyguards” something is clearly off base. The rise in sectarian violence in Iraq tells us that in some ways the bickering in parliament is in danger of becoming a sideshow: the real battle for the future of Iraq is moving outside its fragile state institutions and back towards civil war.

As the Shiite-aligned regime in Baghdad totters, and Sunni fighters grind out gains in the ugly ground war in Syria, there are signs that Sunni factions in Iraq are ready to refight the post-Saddam civil war in Iraq. The Gulf Arabs supplying the weapons in Syria see the conflicts in both Syria and Iraq as part of a single religious war between ‘orthodox’ Sunnis and ‘heretical’ Shiites. It is also a geopolitical struggle between Iran and the Arab kingdoms for control of the Persian Gulf. When and as the Assad regime weakens, look for a surge in supplies and fighters onto the Sunni side in Iraq.

For 100 years, the World War I division of the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire has endured. Now that settlement threatens to unravel, and the five and a half modern states whose boundaries reflect its core arrangements (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories) are all in different ways struggling with the consequences.


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