Maliki’s fault, but…

Everyone is blaming Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki for the implosion of the Iraqi army and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) takeover of Anbar, Ninewa, Salahedin and who knows what next.  He deserves blame.

But not everything said about him and situation is true.  The New York Times states baldly that he failed to include Sunnis in his government.  That is false.  He has always had Sunnis in his government.  They may have not been the right Sunnis, he certainly didn’t listen carefully to them and he has tried to arrest some of them, but they have been there all along (and still are).  Maliki is not running an “inclusive” show, but Sunnis are not entirely excluded.

I just heard on CNN that Maliki hasn’t provided oil revenue to Sunni provinces.  That isn’t true.  So far as I am aware, he has cut off only Kurdistan, with which he has a long-running dispute about accounting for the money and about whether its Regional Government is entitled to export oil without Baghdad’s approval.  The Sunni provinces have received their share, based on population.

Some are marveling at this disaster occurring in the aftermath of a reasonably good election.  It is occurring at least in part because of the election, in which Maliki conducted a sharply sectarian campaign and gained by far the largest bloc in parliament on the strength of his popularity among Shia voters.  Sunni unwillingness to resist ISIS is due in large part to the feeling that Sunnis, who went to the polls fragmented rather than united, will not get a fair shake in the future, because Maliki has announced his intention to form a government with a narrow majority and therefore with less need of Sunni participation.

I’m told ISIS fans are crowing about their triumph over the states created in 1916 by the Sykes-Picot agreement.  But Sykes and Picot had Mosul in the French-controlled territory with Damascus.  The 1920 Treaty of Sevres had it in Kurdistan, whose fate was to be determined by a referendum.  It was confirmed as in Iraq only in 1926.  ISIS action so far has confirmed Sykes-Picot, not negated it.

If the Kurds do in Ninewa what they’ve already done in Kirkuk to fill the vacuum the Iraqi army has left, at least part of present-day Ninewa province is likely to end up where the Treaty of Sevres had it:  in Kurdistan, whose once-promised referendum may not be all that far off if this keeps up.  Turkey, which could in the past be relied upon to object, may no longer, as its companies are making lots of money in Kurdistan and Ankara may well prefer Kurdistan to the caliphate as a neighbor.

Lots of commenters are discussing ISIS’s military prowess.  I’m not a military expert, but almost any army look good if its enemy abandons the field.  The contest here is not really a military one but a political one.  The Iraqi army’s implosion has political roots.  It is due to the failure of many of its cadres to develop loyalty to a popular but sectarian leader unwilling to do what was required to make sure the Sunni community would reject extremism and contribute its best efforts to the Iraqi state.

The real question now is what the United States, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran and what is left of Iraq will do about state failure in Iraq and what could become a much wider regional war with extremists who wish all of them ill.  Uniting to fight the common enemy may be distasteful to some, but unavoidable to all.

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