The word out of Washington is Nouri al-Maliki must go. A new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will unify Iraq with American help.
We’ve seen this movie before — an attempt at a quick fix of Iraq’s problems. Like every other quick fix tried, this one will fail, too. The United States is ignoring the inevitable: Iraq will eventually dissolve into separate nation-states. Efforts are needed to manage that process, not to hope it will go away.
Some history. Following the regime change of 2003 and the elimination of Saddam Hussein, the United States failed to create any civil structure to fill the vacuum. Religious, ethnic, tribal and geographic tensions in Iraq were unleashed (I’ll label it all Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd as shorthand, though the reality is much more complex.) A U.S.-patched-together “government” (the Governing Council, of which Abadi was a part) accomplished little more than marking the first failed quick fix in the Iraq story.
Desperate to install a “legitimate” government, the United States helped slip Maliki — who they knew little about — into power via the Sunni-boycotted elections of 2006. Maliki did little to encourage the Sunnis to become part of the central power structure, and the insurgency kicked into hyperdrive. Maliki refused to embrace the surge’s signature Anbar Awakening, another quick fix designed to “create the political space” needed to unify a nation perhaps only George W. Bush still believed existed.
Despite Maliki throwing the last serious U.S. reconciliation plan under the bus, America stood by and watched the Iranians broker a deal after the 2010 elections that gave Maliki another four years as prime minister. American eyes were on the exit, and Maliki was the devil we knew — a quick fix to declare enough democracy in Iraq so we could get out.