After months of unchecked expansion of IS in Iraq, American combat planes and drones struck militants who belong to IS in northern part of Iraq. While the American step is supposed to be narrow in scope, it has boosted the morale of the minorities and the Kurds. But it remains to be seen how the central government in Baghdad is going to benefit from the new American intervention.
Far from being united, Iraqis are still grappling with forming a new government. After elections produced some inconclusive outcome, the current Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki — a protégé of Iran — is having hard time letting go power. His previous requests that the US step in to fight IS on his behalf fell on deaf ears. The working assumption in Washington is that Al-Maliki himself is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Explicit in all American official statements is that establishing an inclusive government capable of addressing Sunni grievances is a prerequisite for American engagement in the battle against IS. By and large, the American administration views the expansion of the IS in Iraq as a result of Al-Maliki narrow sectarian policies. Whether by design or default, Al-Maliki followed the principle of Winner-Take-All-Politics, a move that enraged an increasing number of Iraqis. For this reason, it seems logical that Al-Maliki should step down to pave the way for the formation of an inclusive government to get the internal house of Iraq in order.
Minorities and the Kurds must be upbeat with the new development. The American airstrikes can boost the morale of the Kurdish fighting forces who have lost ground for IS in the latest round of fighting. Whether the American move will change the balance of power among the fighting groups is still in question. But it seems that the American administration is setting a sort of red line for IS not to cross. For the American administration, Irbil, a city full of American diplomats and a safe haven for religious minorities, is not allowed for IS to attack.
From a different angel, the US has an interest in cutting IS to size. In his Thursday’s White House address, President Obama made it perfectly clear that his country has a “strategic interest in pushing back” the militants of IS. He also stressed the need to protect American personnel and to prevent mass killings of Iraqis especially religious minorities.
President Obama defends his position for not acting before by saying that he learned his lesson from what took place in Libya in the wake of the fall of Qaddafi’s regime. He said that he had underestimated the chaos that would follow the American forces’ withdrawal.
Obama insinuated that he learned the hard way. Now Obama is certain that the crisis in Iraq will be different from what took place in Libya. The reason for this confidence is that a new inclusive government in Baghdad is in the making. Simply put, Obama would not have intervened if there had been no strong signals that a new government is being worked out.
In his words, “but we can only do that if we know that we have got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void.”
The American inaction over the course of the past few months has convinced the Iraqis that their government is dysfunctional. More often than not, Iraqis began to see that Al-Maliki and his sectarian scheme is a recipe for destruction. Now, it seems that Iraqis understand that for them to hold the country together, they have to make accommodations.
But that is easier said than done. It is not as if Iraqi politicians are independent from regional leverage. Al-Maliki for instance consults with Tehran over how he should act in face of increasing pressure on him to step down. With no doubt, Tehran can sabotage the efforts to set up an inclusive government. If this is to happen, then Obama’s new move will lack the political dynamics in Iraq necessary to resolve the crisis.