The Middle East Channel

U.S. Pushes for New Iraqi Government as Maliki Refuses to Step Down

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has refused to step down after the new president, Fouad Massoum, nominated Deputy Speaker of Parliament Haider al-Abadi, a member of Maliki's Dawa party, as his replacement. Maliki called Abadi's nomination a violation of the constitution and said, "My nomination is still valid and we will correct this mistake for sure." U.S. President Barack Obama praised Abadi's nomination saying it was a "promising step forward" and urged him to form an inclusive cabinet. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that once Iraq starts to build a new government, the United States will consider providing additional military, economic, and political assistance to the country. Abadi has 30 days to form a government. Meanwhile, the Iraqi military is conducting relief efforts in the Sinjar mountains, dropping supplies and carrying-out small scale evacuations, though thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community who fled an Islamic State offensive remain stranded, starving, and dehydrated. Britain has additionally conducted aid drops, though several members of parliament are calling for Britain to join the United States in launching airstrikes against Islamic State militants.


Lebanese General Jean Kahwaji said that radical Islamist militants who attacked the town of Arsal near the border with Syria in early August still pose a "great threat" to Lebanon. Kahwaji said the fighters, who included Islamic State militants, were working to "cause Sunni-Shitte strife" and had planned to advance into nearby Shiite villages. Meanwhile, activists reported Islamic State forces regained control of three villages near the border with Iraq after a tribal uprising expelled the militants earlier this month.


Arguments and Analysis

'Fighting the Islamic State in Iraq' (Julien Barnes-Dacey, European Council on Foreign Relations)

"For the moment, however, the prospect of significant political reform in Baghdad remain slim at best, despite the concerted pressure of Iraq's religious establishment, Iran and Western powers. Across eight years of rule Maliki has cemented control of the state's security institutions around his office and with his bloc having won the most seats at the last elections he is now refusing to leave, a position that is now allegedly being backed by Iraq's federal court.

In this context not only do US military strikes risk little impact in combatting IS - Maliki's ongoing stay in power will ensure that Sunnis do not switch sides - but they actually risk making the situation worse if viewed as US complicity with Maliki, particularly if they take the pressure off him to stand down, further fuelling IS' mobilising drive. It is for this reason that President Obama has to date committed to very narrow objectives and limited military action, wanting to keep Maliki's feet close to the fire. The longer the political crisis endures over a new government, however, and with IS' advance continuing unabated, the greater the pressure Obama will face to escalate US military action regardless of the status of the prime ministership. Already the US is directly arming Kurdish forces, which could itself further complicate deal-making in Baghdad and US ambitions to preserve the political unity of the Iraqi state."

'Erdogan is the victor but he is not yet almighty' (Sinan Ulgen, Financial Times)

"But this set-up is only temporary. A more permanent configuration will emerge after the 2015 parliamentary elections. Mr Erdogan's ultimate objective is for his Justice and Development (AK) party to win a constitutional majority at these critical polls.

Then a presidential system can be introduced and he can become the omnipotent executive president. As a result, in his first year as president, he will focus much more on domestic politics with the aim of sustaining and even increasing the AK party's popularity. He will have to accomplish a delicate balancing act to overcome the current constitutional restrictions on the bipartisanship of the presidency. The constitution, for instance, requires the president-elect to resign from his party to ensure impartiality."

'Would arming Syria's rebels have stopped the Islamic State?' (Marc Lynch, The Washington Post)

"Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton made news this weekend by suggesting that the rise of the Islamic State might have been prevented had the Obama administration moved to more aggressively arm Syrian rebels in 2012. Variants of this narrative have been repeated so often by so many different people in so many venues that it's easy to forget how implausible this policy option really was."

-- Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

Iraq’s President Asks Abadi to Form Government as Maliki Pushes for Third Term

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pushing to remain in power for a third term stoking political tensions in Iraq. Maliki has accused the country's new president, Fouad Massoum, of staging a "coup against the constitution and the political process" for refusing to designate him prime minister. On Monday, Massoum asked Deputy Speaker Haider al-Abadi to form a government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States supports Massoum and warned Maliki not to interfere with the constitutional process and the formation of a new government. However, an Iraqi court ruled that Maliki's State of Law coalition is the largest bloc in parliament and should be given the first opportunity to form a new government. Meanwhile, the United States has begun to directly provide arms to the Kurdish pesh merga forces who are battling Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. The U.S. administration had previously sold weapons only to the Iraqi government in Baghdad. U.S. airstrikes over the weekend have helped the pesh merga to retake the towns of Gwer and Mahmour.


  • Israeli and Palestinian delegates resumed indirect negotiations Monday after agreeing to a new 72-hour cease-fire after exchanging attacks over the weekend.
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received about 52 percent of the vote winning Turkey's first direct presidential election, and is expected to increase powers for what had been a largely ceremonial post.
  • Egypt has denied entry to two Human Rights Watch staff members who were planning to release a report on the mass killings of protesters by security forces in 2013.
  • An Iranian passenger airplane crashed Sunday morning killing 39 people.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iraq's Rot Starts at the Top' (Zaid Al-Ali, The New York Times)

"Sadly, none of the men being considered as possible replacements for Mr. Maliki would necessarily do any better than he has. Their records, from their time in exile in the 1990s, are dubious at best. Ibrahim al-Jafari, a front-runner, did nothing to curb militia activity when he was prime minister in 2005-6, and refused to impose a curfew that might have prevented the bloody civil war that erupted. Ahmad Chalabi's name is frequently floated, but his family banking business was a failure, his opposition group in exile was accused of mismanaging American funds, he has failed to win a single seat in Parliament in his own right in each of Iraq's elections, and he has no executive experience of note. A third candidate, Tariq Najm, is a virtual unknown - as Mr. Maliki was when he was picked in 2006. The main advantage of Adel Abdul Mahdi, the final candidate, is that he alone probably realizes that he is not capable of governing the country on his own and would therefore rely on assistance from outside his immediate circle. That may be reason enough for him to occupy the position."

'Isis, the jihadists who turned the tables' (Hassan Hassan, The Guardian)

"Yet these advances appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. Away from the publicised gains, Isis is quietly making progress on other fronts. Perhaps the most worrying is the fact that armed groups backed by the US have been co-opted by Isis.

After its sweeping military success in Iraq in June, Isis moved to take over the strategic province in Deir Ezzor, where the rebels controlled lucrative oil and gas resources. To the surprise of many, the group quickly controlled towns and villages that were home to some of the group's most powerful adversaries, including Jabhat al-Nusra and locally rooted tribal militias."

'Airstrikes in Iraq, But Why Not Syria' (Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council)

"For this administration, however, legal mandate is important. Whether its importance reflects a disciplined adherence to constitutional and international law or a tactic employed to justify some actions while avoiding others is, perhaps, debatable. What is clear, however, is that a 'mandate' emanating from a government headed by a person-Nouri al-Maliki-whose gross incompetence and sectarianism have brought Iraq back to ruin seems to facilitate doing something. On the other hand, the abysmal combination of Russian and Chinese vetoes in the United Nations Security Council and the continued recognition by Washington of Bashar al-Assad as the President of the Syrian Arab Republic seem to provide the requisite excuse for doing next to nothing."

-- Mary Casey