Is Iraq coming apart?

With the last of the American soldiers leaving, Iraq’s politicians are going after each other.  Iraqiyya, the coalition that won the most seats in 2010, is boycotting the parliament, where it is nominally part of the majority.  Prime Minister Maliki is targeting Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, mainstays of the relatively moderate Sunni political forces that have sought to participate in the post-Saddam Hussein democratic framework.

Ironically, Vice President Hashemi recently offered an optimistic view of what might happen after American withdrawal:

There is nothing to worry about because there is no security vacuum in the country. In fact, the internal security situation might improve after the US withdrawal. However the Iraqi armed forces’ insufficient training – in particular, the absence of well trained air and naval forces – will mean that Iraq’s borders are undefended in case of any attack from outside the country.

But he added:

The ground forces alone are not sufficient to protect Iraq’s borders because these forces are busy with internal security-related tasks. And [after the US withdrawal] there may also be internal issues that arise because of different Iraqi ethnicities’ claims to different provinces. So we really need to find political solutions to these problems quickly.

Yes, indeed they do, though at the moment the strongest tensions appear to be sectarian, between Sunni and Shia, rather than ethnic (between Arabs and Kurds).   An arrest warrant has supposedly been issued for Hashemi, and his bodyguards are under investigation for a carbombing in Baghad’s green zone apparently intended to kill Maliki, who has asked parliament to withdraw confidence from Mutlaq.  Hashemi and Mutlaq flew to Kurdistan today, likely looking for support to bring down Maliki’s government.  As Maliki has fulfilled few of the promises he made to get the Kurds to join his coalition government, Hashemi and Mutlaq may well find a friendly reception in Kurdistan.  But to put together an alternative governing coalition, they will need to entice one or more of the Shia parties to join.  That will not be easy.

Juan Cole is right when he says:

If the country’s vice president really is a terrorist, it is a sad commentary on the state of Iraqi politics. If he isn’t, then al-Maliki is deploying ‘war on terror’ accusations to grab complete power for his coalition of Shiite parties.

The important question is not whether Maliki’s government survives but whether the current quarrels are managed peacefully and in accordance with the constitution.  I know all the principals in the most recent quarrels:  Maliki, Hashemi and Mutlaq.  They are tough and wily, but are they murderers or dictators?  I’ve learned from experience to reserve judgment until there is clear evidence one way or the other.  It is too early to reach any definitive conclusions.

Is Iraq coming apart?  We should not mistake the fall of a government for the dissolution of a state.  It is not even clear yet that Maliki will fall.  Too early to tell what is really going on.


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