It’s all up to Al-Abadi now
By: Hassan Barari
By all yardsticks, Nuri Al-Maliki had to be sacrificed for the sake an inclusive political game in Iraq. His last minute clinging to his post did not discourage others from sidelining him.
Coalition of Shiite parties as well as religious figures reached the conclusion that Al-Maliki was perhaps the last politician who would end Baghdad political deadlock and save the crumbing state. Hence, they nominated Haider Al-Abadi to replace him. Under Al-Maliki, the Islamic State (IS) managed to rampage through the north part of Iraq and the central government looked pathetic.
If anything, the nomination of Al-Abadi made it all but impossible for supporters of Al-Maliki to put a working ruling coalition. Thanks to his sectarian policies and narrow-minded approach, Al-Maliki fell from grace and even Iran gave up on him. Additionally, the international community began to turn up the heat on Al-Maliki since the IS made its major inroads in northern Iraq in June. Since then, Al-Maliki had failed to reverse the situation and he lost in the process.
Interestingly enough, there has been an international consensus that the sectarian policies followed by Al-Maliki since the beginning of the Syrian revolution have disenfranchised the Sunni minority in Iraq. Some of the Sunni Iraqis turned to the militancy because they felt they were the prey of Al-Maliki’s sectarian policies. Iraq, which began to show signs of a failed state, needs a different course of action and Al-Abadi’s key mission now is to reverse the situation and put the country back on track.
The new prime minister-designate called on Iraqis to unite against the IS. Al-Abadi will make a huge mistake if he thinks that the security or military approach is the only one that should be employed to overcome the IS challenge. If anything, an inclusive political process is the key for any enduring success in dealing with terrorism and the IS. Any move to circumvent the political process would not pay off.
It is not as if Al-Maliki’s removal will lead to an automatic reconciliation. I think that the new prime minister will need to focus more on the minority section and convince them that there is a stake for them in the stability and unity of the state. Their support to Al-Abadi will not be without conditions. Tribal leaders and religious figures from the minority community made it perfectly clear that their backing for the new government is conditional. There is a deep sense among Sunni Iraqis of injustice being done to them. We all remember that the tribal awakening helped to no small amount in defeating Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2006-2009. They may be willing to take up arms against the IS provided that their political demands are met.
The new prime minister should have no illusions. Sunni alienation under Al-Maliki could not be more obvious. Many among them joined the IS in protest against Al-Maliki’s sectarian policies. Fortunately, key Shiite figures began to understand what it takes to fix the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani spoke in public supporting Al-Abadi saying that his appointment offered a rare opportunity to defuse the crisis. Additionally, he urged contending politicians to rise up to the historic responsibility and help Al-Abadi to put a working government.
While it is too early to predict whether Al-Abadi will succeed in grappling with the situation, one can say that in a deeply divided country, the only benchmark for success is to restore trust among various group and to bring the alienated Sunnis back into the fold. Short of doing that, Al-Abadi will be set up for a failure. Perhaps, regional powers should act in a positive and constructive manner to help Al-Abadi implement inclusive policies. I would argue that it is all up to Al-Abadi. If he opts for a more inclusive politics, key important regional power will help him. Otherwise, he will be running the risk of facing the same future like his predecessor.