The Long Knives Come out in Baghdad

By Juan Cole

The coup-like atmosphere created by Nouri al-Maliki’s stationing of his troops at the Green Zone, checkpoints and bridges in Baghdad on late Sunday backfired on him with Iraq’s parliamentarians. Nearly half of the members of his Islamic Da`wa Party (Islamic Call or Mission Party) in parliament defected from him. Most of the other Shiites in parliament threw their vote to the new appointee, Haydar al-`Ibadi.

On Monday, President Fuad Massoum appointed Haydar al-`Ibadi as prime minister, and he has a month to form a government. Al-`Ibadi was born in 1952. He joined the Islamic Da’wa Party at the age of 15 and so has been a fundamentalist striving for an Islamic state all his life. He served in Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority for a while after the revolution. But he grew dissatisfied with it and wanted an elected Iraqi government. He seems to be an Iraq patriot.

Al-Maliki blamed the move on the Americans, called it unconstitutional, and pledged to “correct” this step and to prove “victorious.”

In other words, al-Maliki is refusing to go quietly, and troops loyal to him are still mobilized around key points in Baghdad, the capital.

Sociologist Charles Tilly argued that revolutions are accompanied by a condition of dual sovereignty, that is, during a revolution two centers of political power emerge, which go on to have their troops fight for them on the battlefield.

At the moment, Iraq is certainly in a revolutionary situation, with four centers of sovereignty. These are

1. Nouri al-Maliki, who insists he is still prime minister

2. Haydar al-Abadi, the incoming PM according to some parties

3. The Kurdistan Republic of Massoud Barzani

4. The so-called “Islamic State” of “Caliph” Ibrahim.

The nomination of al-Abadi was greeted as good news by hard line cleric and champion of the poor, Muqtada al-Sadr.

The problems are just beginning. Al-Abadi is from the ruling “State of Law” coalition, the major component of which back al-Maliki. A party congress to undo the president’s appointment would be a major embarrassment.

On the other hand, if parliament gets to decide, there are almost certainly more votes for al-Abadi than al-Maliki there. The Supreme Islamic Council
of Iraq, led by Ammar al-Hakim
, has swung to al-Abadi. Iran is also said to be pleased with al-Abadi.

Al-Abadi will also need the Kurdish vote. Fuad Massoum, who appointed him, is Kurdish. But there is some question about whether the Kurds will ever relinquish Kirkuk, which they seized last month. The Da’wa Party is a combination religious and nationalist power, so it wants a strong central government and would not want like the idea of ceding Kirkuk or acquiescing in Kurdistan independence. So even if al-Abadi can ally with the Kurds, there is likely still a blow-up to come down the road.

So al-Abadi has to first defeat al-Maliki, politically and militarily.

Then he likely has to ally with the Kurds against Cali Ibrahim and try to get back Sunni Iraq.

But then after that, he will likely come into conflict with the Kurds.

The war is by no means over.


Related video:

VOA: “Can Abadi form a workable government for Iraq?”

17 Responses

  1. This is surreal. It’s like the plot to a bad fantasy novel. The 03 invasion was already far and away the most criminal act of the millennium and it’s still causing terrible sorrow with even more set to come

  2. Mr. Cole, I hope you will stop ironizing the phrase ‘Islamic State’, and also drop the prefix ‘so-called’. There is simply no need. You are lending to your readers the impression that you very much doubt, or are nonetheless very skeptical that ISIS desires a new caliphate. I’m not sure how you can qualify this skepticism when they have clearly already ‘declared’ it based on their recent territorial gains.

    • You should read some of Juan Cole’s other posts. It is not a caliphate just because the ISIS leader declares it. It is very much a “so-called” caliphate. This so-called “caliphate” or “Islamic State” has no religious legitimacy. That why it is a “so-called”.

      “The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that as a head of state, a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a caliph should be an Imam chosen by God (Allah) from the Ahl al-Bayt (the “Family of the House”, Muhammad’s direct descendents). ”

      “The caliphate was “the core leader concept of Sunni Islam, by the consensus of the Muslim majority in the early centuries”.”

      Just because Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi says he is a caliph does not make it so. He has absolutely no backing by any significant Muslim religious leaders and was not elected by Muslims to the role. It is also far from clear he was chosen by “God”. There is no Sunni consensus by the majority that al-Baghdadi should be the caliph.

      • Setting aside the semantics of “caliphate”, ISIS is still not a state in the same way that Castro’s army was not a state until it marched into Havana and formed one, or Mao’s army was not a state until it marched into Beijing after 20 years of fighting. Remember in “Lawrence of Arabia” when the Arab Legion marched into Aqaba, and the British easily sabotaged their rule there? People start demanding actual governmental services after a while, not just endless punishment. And the most important thing in Iraq is the state petroleum company, whose engineers threatened to sabotage the oil industry several times to foil the demands of the US Occupation. Thanks to sanctions, that industry was a patchwork of weird fixes that only the engineers understood, making them irreplaceable.

  3. Thanks for the update of a confusing situation. I still haven’t seen an explanation of the constitutional procedure for selecting the PM. Has this been according to Hoyle?

  4. A couple months ago I was under the impression Iraqi Shia would re-form their militias, replace the function of the hollow Army, and take the fight to the IS. It isn’t happening. They seem to all be waiting for the US to come back, spill blood, deposit cash. Fortunately, our President is just not that stupid.

    • Part of the problem is that the US refused to build up Iraq’s air force, which Prof. Cole mentioned some years ago, due to fear of how it might be used. For militiamen to fight ISIS, they would either need comparable weapons (armor) to fight them in the countryside, or to fight them in their home cities with counterweapons like RPGs. The comparable weapons seem to all have been sent west by Maliki to fight the Sunnis – and gotten captured. The counterweapons? Maybe the militias still have a lot of RPGs and mines buried in secret caches, but not where ISIS currently is.

  5. those gentlemen might want to get their acts together and stop fighting amongst themselves, before ISIS rolls right through town and over them. Not much will be gained if ISIS controls most of the country except for the area controlled by the Kurds..

    It might be best if the Kurds are left alone with the land they now control. They will most likely fight to do so and better they are on Iraq’s side and taking aim at ISIS. If the Kurds don’t have anything of their own to defend, don’t count on them fighting on behalf of Iraq to defeat ISIS.

    Iraq was a country created by the west, not by the people in the region. When Bush and his buddies decided to invade Iraq, they created this problem. They got rid of Saddem Hussein, only to find they were left with something even more frightening. No one ever said Bush was smart, but the rest of the countries which followed him in, ought to have known better.

    The Americans and their friends destroyed a country and now look at what they have there: death, destruction, civil war, famine, lack of infrastructure. Upp, the west really helped in Iraq and gave them democracy. Next time they want go “rescue” a country, they might want to look at what they did to Iraq and stay home.

    • Yes, I like this perspective. I hold Tony Blair in only slightly less contempt than Bush. He acted as enabler and cheerleader when he opught to have known better. I’m still not sure what his objective was in that — to curry more favor with the Americans? (To what end?) Or was he subject to the same brand of wishful thinking/self-delusion that Bush was patently addicted to?

    • As we watch Iraq fall apart, I am wondering if Bush still feels that the invasion was the right thing to do? I bet he does not, but would never publically admit it. I bet Iraq will haunt Bush till the day he dies. Although those unnecessary young Americans and Iraqis who died. Just a big and constant mess that Bush and his neocons left Obama to deal with…

      • The neocons won’t be haunted. What’s happening in Iraq, Syria and Gaza is like a dream come true for them.

        “A Clean Break” written in 1996, by Doug Feith and Richard Pearl for Israel Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu makes for some VERY interesting reading.

        Perpetual war and remaking the Middle East is a neocon perfect world.

  6. PS (my original edit got accidentally deleted while typing) — further censure to the NATO puppets and American lapdogs who also sent soldiers to kill and be killed in support of neo-Con hegemonist fantasies. Praise be for the French, who saw through this pernicious yet half-baked scheme and refused to be suckered into it, and were rewarded for their intelligence by being subject to tantrums from the American media and public.

  7. Then he likely has to ally with the Kurds against Cali Ibrahim and try to get back Sunni Iraq.
    this part seems the least likely.

  8. Let’s hope in two years someone from the actual left of center is the Denocrat nominee, referencing “let’s not do stupid” stupid is as stupid does. NO TO Clinton 2

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