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Al-Maliki and Al-Abadi… The constant and the variable in Iraq

Preventing Nouri Al-Maliki from unconstitutionally being charged with forming a government required the restoration of the conditions set for his appointment, i.e. American-Iranian rapprochement. Al-Maliki was tasked with forming the current government under similar circumstances while a coalition was formed around him and he was considered the largest bloc, despite the fact that this wasn't the case for his list in the election results.

Since the United States internally acknowledged the failure of its policy in Iraq and realised the faltering of the objectives of its occupation of the country, including the goals retroactively set after the attack, the US did not strive long to find a power it can depend on to preserve the stability in Iraq, at least as a political entity. How would the US conceal the identity of this power that watched with pleasure, as it got involved in the aggression in 2003, to provide the US with an Iraq without the Baathists or Saddam Hussein? Iran was preparing itself to deal with this Arab country as an area of influence, rather and area of direct dominance.

Over the last few years of Saddam Hussein's reign, Iran has radicalised its influence within the Iraqi opposition forces that have gradually taken on a sectarian nature. In the period after the American occupation of Iraq, Iran also succeeded in extending its influence to the institutions of the Iraqi state by means of political parties and groups that may be considered Shia political groups in both the sectarian and doctrinal aspects.

In the eyes of America this was the main power that cannot be ignored when making arrangements for post-withdrawal Iraq that will be in the form of a multi-party system, the majority of which are sectarian parties, but it did not pay attention to the danger of combining what it considered to be a sectarian majority with a democratic majority. The United States prepared a number of paths to develop Iraq on sectarian foundations without the presence of sectarian political traditions, sectarian compatibility, or so-called mistaken consensus democracy.

This is how the Iraqi-Arab population was divided into sects without a sectarian system on one hand, while only acknowledging the nationalism of one sect, the Kurds, on the other. This situation allowed for coalitions and alliances the excluded the Sunni Arabs. The sectarian policies have reached the extent of bitter political revenge that has not been calmed after the Baathist regime was liquidated and the Iraqi army dismantled. I am referring to the exclusion of even those who participated in the so-called "political process", as for those who opposed it, they were oppressed while many innocents were punished.

Regardless of the conflicts over the share of power each held and its plunder, as well as the balancing of power within the Shia political groups, Iran's manoeuvres between its various forces that possess varying degrees of independence from Iran or are connected by varying degrees of dependency, the meeting of the Iranian and American wills remain the decisive factor in the appointment of an individual as prime minister and other sovereign positions.

Many were shocked by United States' abandonment of Iyad Allawi, the openly secular candidate close to the US, who was supported by the majority Sunni vote despite being Shia. Instead, the US chose to support tasking Al-Maliki with forming a government because he was the candidate supported by Iran. This was surprising even to those who knew the details of the policies those days, including Allawi himself. This Iranian-American agreement became a key factor to pressure the Syrian regime to change its position after it had agreed with Turkey and Qatar to support Iyad Allawi. This did not save him from the accusations of supporting terrorism in Iraq, directed at him by Al-Maliki. The American desire, at the time, was stronger than the Iranian desire in terms of the Syrian regime, and that was the eve of the return of the American ambassador to Syria.

The American-Iranian agreement was the strongest factor in determining the majority alliances within the Iraqi parliament and naming the prime minister, even though he was not a member of the largest party on the parliamentary list. Therefore, the Constitutional Court adopted the concept of the largest bloc, and not the party or the larger parliamentary list.

Al-Maliki's failure to achieve unity in Iraq and his repulsion towards even the so-called Sunni moderates, including those who formed the Tribal Awakening and expelled Al-Qaeda from their municipalities through their hateful retaliatory sectarian policies, was not enough to make a decision regarding the need to change him.

His name has become a symbol of the alienation and marginalisation of the Sunni Arabs from the so-called political process. Despite the mass executions and torture in prisons, Al-Maliki's stubbornness and his decision to exercise violence against peaceful sit-ins and in response to the rebellion of the tribes in Fallujah, the storming of Anbar, and his military failure, America and Iran took no measures to nominate another name. However, they did end up doing so due to the emergence of a new threat posed by the danger of the expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS) into the western and northern regions of Iraq. This variable alone was sufficient to produce a new understanding between the United States and Iran, as it became clear that recruiting the Iraqi people themselves against ISIS would not be possible with the existence of Al-Maliki, and neither would foreign interference, as it would be interpreted as supporting one sect against another if it was not preceded by the formation of a wider government.

The structure of the ruling system in Iraq did not change, nor did the relations of the prominent powers in it or the sectarian paths of its development. Instead, the individual was changed and the political mood was slightly improved due to the conclusions reached after the bitter and failed Al-Maliki experience. More importantly, the intensity of the security arrogance decreased as well as the hollow bravado that Al-Maliki was characterised by after the humiliation of the Iraqi Army in Nineveh, and before that in Anbar. Hence America's bet on the fact that the new Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi would adopt a more open policy, or, more accurately, be more capable of containing the Sunni Arabs in the government, security agencies, the military and others.

The Arab countries are still absent in forming a considerable factor in the internal political life in Iraq to counter the Iranian-American shared interests and the Iraqi political trend that unites Shia and Sunni Arabs as Iraqi citizens is still missing. Therefore, the socio-political structure of Iraq is still the same, based on Iranian influence, compatibility with America, and Kurdish independence as a reality in the form belonging to Iraq as a formality and the attempt to contain the rest of the Sunni Arabs in light of the dominance of the sectarian structure based on foreign influence. Iraq remains at risk of similar dangers and crises in the future.

As for the transition from sectarian dominance to sectarian consensus, I don't believe Iran is ready to accept this nor do I believe the US is capable of imposing this, even after sectarian cleansing and the danger of division. This sectarianism focused on foreign intervention is what is preventing the emergence of strong national forces that can push the Iraqi political structure towards national and democratic sovereignty based on citizenship, and it seems to me that in Iraq they go hand in hand.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 14 August, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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