Monday, August 2, 2010

Maliki Handed his Hat?

From the WaPo comes this bit of bad news for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Back in March, you'll recall, Maliki's State of Law coalition fell just short of former PM Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc in the national elections, and long weeks have dragged into months while the various groups have wrangled to work out who would get to form the new government. Now Maliki's State Of  Law party appears to have lost the support of the Iraqi National Alliance, an (Iran-endorsed...) coalition of religious Shiite parties which had backed Maliki's claim to power.

Without INA backing, Maliki just doesn't have a chance, and he should recognize this. Allawi appears to have pretty much shed his previous stigma of "American Puppet" among Iraqis, and holds great promise in bringing Sunnis more actively and productively to the table. Necessary as they were overall (if at times heavy-handed in the execution), Maliki's aggressive de-Baathification steps have never been forgiven amid a large swathe of the Sunni population. Allawi's broadly secular, trans-sectarian appeal is as much the thing for today's Iraq as Maliki's nails in the Baath Party coffin were for the Iraq of four years ago. Allawi is also a very vocal and credible opponent of Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs (and, despite some recent brave noises along these lines, Maliki just hasn't been able to close that sale with the Iraqi people for whom Tehran is not popular). Kurdish former President Talabani is one of Allawi's closest friends, which appears likely to be reflected in relations between Arab and Kurdish blocs in an increasingly coalitionist government..

Maliki is being obdurate, and Iraq is suffering as a result. This is not to say that he does not have a legitimate case. He just might. That’s not the point. A true statesman would see that this protracted stalemate is the ultimate “broken window” in the neighborhood, and it’s signaling to the agents of chaos that they have their own window of opportunity.

After initially low expectations, Maliki has impressed me on more than one occasion with his tenacity and mettle. It is a shame to see him appearing to regress in what most observers agree is a strenuous and increasingly ignoble-seeming effort to cling to power, at the expense of the stability of his nation.

He should let Allawi have another turn at the tiller, soak up the goodwill from taking that high road, and use it to try again the next time around.

That’s what people do in a republic.

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