Friday, May 7, 2010

Where is Iraq Headed?

From all indications, in the aftermath of the recent elections Iraq is now headed for trouble - big trouble.  If the recently agreed coalition between Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance holds together (and it's not entirely certain that it can, especially if Mr. al-Maliki insists on keeping his job as prime minister), then the Iraqi government is going to be dominated by Shii religious parties that (a) have very close ties with Iran and (b) will be turning to the uppermost Shii religious leadership in Najaf (the marjayah, headed by the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani) as ultimate arbiter of political disputes.

Shut out from real political power at this point are the Sunni Arab minority, who until the 2003 US invasion and deposing of Saddam Hussein had dominated Iraq's politics ever since the creation of the modern state of Iraq in 1921.  Their potential exclusion comes despite the possibility that Iraqiya, the political bloc most Sunnis supported in the election and led by the secular nationalist  Shii, and former prime minister,  Ayad Allawi - may have received the most votes of any political party.  A recount of the Baghdad vote - which Maliki demanded in the aftermath of the election, hoping to stave off defeat - is under way.  Allegations of fraud in both the initial ballot and the recount are already out there, which suggests that the results of the recount are not going to settle anything and will likely serve to complicate the issue even further.

Mr. Allawi, meanwhile, insists that the new Shii coalition was engineered by Iran (and whatever their actual role on that score, the Iranian leadership in Tehran are undoubtedly happy), which in his eyes de-legitimizes them.  And Allawi also insists that as the winner, he and his party have the right to form the next government. 

Bottom line: Iraq's Sunnis are angry, they feel cheated, and they're not going to buy into another Shii-dominated government.  Joe Klein in his Time blog feels that civil war is not imminent (and Juan Cole has been saying the same thing), and it's surely apparent that most Iraqis are fed up with the violence of their recent history.  But there's no sign that disenfranchised Sunnis are simply going to roll over and go politically dormant.

Big losers, again: the US, which (as the Center for American Progress' Iraq War Ledger shows) has plowed hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of snuffed-out or ruined lives of its military into an effort that has left Iraq devastated and has, more than anything, promoted the regional rise of a country that the US has long viewed as its greatest competitor and threat in the region: Iran.

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