GKHAN – Iraq after Maliki

Iraq after MalikiFinally, Nouri al-Maliki has announced that he is stepping down in favor of Haider al-Abadi. In his final speech, he referred to Abadi as andldquomy brotherandrdquo In fact, Abadi is from another branch of Malikiand#39s Dawa Party.

Therefore, Malikiand#39s replacement by Abadi can be seen as a power shift in the family. Indeed, personalities are important, but only up to a point.

No matter whether Maliki is in power or not, the Shiite character of the Baghdad government is likely to endure. In other words, despite his many mistakes, it was not Maliki alone who created the Shiite style of government in Baghdad.

Rather, that was the outcome of many dynamics. Maliki can be blamed for worsening the situation.

Yet there are complex dynamics that necessitate a Shiite style of government for the Arabs who follow the Dawa Party in Iraq.In a divided Iraq, the Kurds have already decided on their autonomous future.

The rise of the Islamic State (IS) has almost taken Sunni Iraq into a totally new phase. So, what can we expect from the Arab Shiites in Iraq? Not a modern state based on citizenship, certainly! Facing the threat of the IS, the Shiite Arabs have no option but to resort to a kind of political tribalism that is formulated around Shiite Islam Outsiders should stop reading political tribalism in the region from the wrong point of view.

Political tribalism in the Middle East is not a choice it is an inevitable survival strategy. Even Abadi will not be totally free of this paradigm The question, therefore, is simple: Facing enormous threats, such as the IS, do political leaders in the region have many options to consolidate their power and legitimacy? The answer, of course, is andldquono.

andrdquo In a geography where all actors and groups — including Turkey — rely on tribalism, one cannot be so naive as to underestimate the power of sectarian and tribal bonds.The power shift in Iraq is the result also of two big statesand#39 consent: that of the US and Iran.

US President Barack Obamaand#39s anti-Maliki statements coincided with those of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Interestingly, it is the indirect consensus of the US and Iran that forced Maliki to step down.

Had either side not been party to this consensus, Maliki would most probably not have stepped down. In this way, the US-Iran nexus has become the major dynamic of Baghdadi politics.

For some months, many have been admitting that Iran is now part of the solution for any major issue in Middle Eastern politics. The Maliki case was thus a litmus test for Iran.

And it came out positive. Many in the West, including the Americans, are now more satisfied with the positive role of Iran.

In an age of chaos, Iran is emerging as a strong and consistent partner in the region. Besides, with the IS threatening Lebanon, Iran now has a chance of becoming a diplomatic star in regional politics.

Iranand#39s story is not limited to high diplomacy. Iran is becoming a protector for groups like the Turkmens and the Yazidis.

The IS-style developments, and the weakness of other regional states like Turkey, can transform Iran into a shelter for some Sunni Muslims. One should not forget that, historically, people choose between andldquobadandrdquo and andldquoworseandrdquo in the Middle East.

Today, unfortunately, the number-one issue of Iraqi politics is not the success of the Abadi government. Instead, it is the IS.

Will the IS be here for a long time? Will the IS keep expanding into other states such as Lebanon, Jordan and even Turkey? In such an equation, the main expectation from the Abadi government is the creation of a kind of respect-based dialogue with other groups in Iraq, including the Kurds. How can we persuade the Sunnis not to accept an IS-like politics? This is a difficult question.

But now might be the right time to reintegrate some of the Saddam-era political leaders into the political game in Iraq.