Maliki Won’t Budge

As the Iraqi president refuses to step down and instead vows to move ahead with forming his own government, Juan Cole sees the crisis deepening:

Al-Maliki rather outrageously accused those who called for him to step down in favor of a government of national unity of de facto allying with ISIS, a would-be al-Qaeda affiliate, and the remnants of the Baath Party that used to rule Iraq in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s day.

Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr put forward a 6-point plan for ending the crisis. He urges that the ‘moderate Sunnis’ be separated from ISIS terrorists and called for a government of national unity (exactly what al-Maliki just rejected). He also called on Iraqis to act against any foreign incursions into Iraq.

At the same time, Ali al-Hatim, leader of the Council of Sunni Tribes, rejected the notion of al-Maliki gaining a third term: “He has to go, like it or not.” He characterized al-Maliki’s rule as “rule by Iran.” He also denounced the present constitution as an “occupation constitution.”

But even if Maliki were willing to step down, replacing him wouldn’t be easy:

“There is no chance of the elites coming together to confront the serious threat to the state that ISIS presents with Maliki at the helm,” said Emma Sky, who served as the political advisor to Gen. Ray Odierno during his tenure as the top U.S. general in Iraq. “The best hope is that the elites agree on an alternative — they have the votes to do so.”

Still, finding a replacement acceptable to all of Iraq’s sects and political parties will be an extraordinarily difficult task because of the number of boxes the potential leader must check. He has to be a Shiite, but not one as harshly anti-Sunni as Maliki. He needs the military know-how to repair Iraq’s battered armed forces and oversee a counterattack against ISIS. To top it off, he needs the diplomatic skills to work with both Washington and Tehran, despite the lingering tensions between the United States and Iran.

Reading between the lines of US strategy, Mark Thompson suspects that Obama is trying to save Maliki but force him to compromise:

It’s simple: the U.S. military generally “sends messages” by attacking. Now it is sending messages by not attacking. And its target this time around isn’t the enemy, but its purported ally running the country.

While the Pentagon officially denies it, the U.S, government is dragging its feet when it comes to defending Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s government in Iraq. … Washington is trying to hit the sweet spot: promise to deliver enough help in the form of air strikes and on-the-ground advisers to preserve Maliki’s government, but make sure it arrives slowly enough that he feels compelled to compromise with the Sunnis and Kurds who are now tearing the country apart.