Posted on 03-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Months after Iraq’s election Nuri Kamal al-Maliki finally wheedled together a coalition to retain power.  But the long term prognosis for Iraq is not good.  The election unveiled the deep fissures in Iraqi society.  Al-Maliki’s support is largely confined to his Shiite community. His opponent (and former Prime Minister) Ayad Allawi drew his support from the embittered Sunni minority.  Once again the Kurds hold the balance of power.  The trouble will erupt when they demand and receive their pound of flesh – the provinces of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala which are also claimed by the Sunnis.

The Sunni community is deeply unhappy with al-Maliki’s conduct of the war against terror and his attempt to disenfrachise them after their block came so close to victory.  Al-Maliki will also have to contend with Moqtada al-Sadr with whom he clashed in the past, but whose support this week secured his re-election attempt.

Then there is al-Maliki’s desire to strengthen his divided country by concentrating more power in Baghdad.  That would reek of a Shiite attempt to dominate the other two communities could light a slow fuse towards civil war.

Joe Biden is often a late night punch line and for a man focussed on foreign policy has made more than his share of wrong decisions.  But in my opinion he has been prescient on two major issues in the last decade.  One, was the surge in Afghanistan last year.  The other was his plan to create a truly decentralized Iraq that drew bipartisan support in the Senate in 2007.  George Bush’s surge aided by a more competent local ally than our Kabul headache succeeded in military terms.   But it did not pave the way to the hoped for political reconciliation.  The nature of al-Maliki’s return to power makes that even less likely.

The examples of India and Pakistan show the perils of having an over-centralized government in an ethnically diverse country.  Unless Iraq’s factions discover so far unseen capacity for compromise and cooperation a Bosnian style conflict with foreign funding for their proxies may be the ultimate end result.

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