The Obama administration finds itself in the mother of all suboptimal positions in Iraq this morning. Late last week, after months of allowing the linked crises in Syria and Iraq, prompted by the rise of the fundamentalist militant group ISIS, to continue unabated, Obama finally committed to executing limited airstrikes on Islamic State positions.
This contingency operation was aimed only at forestalling that group’s advance on the key cities of Erbil and Baghdad, where American personnel and assets are stationed. All the while, the president and his advisors made it clear that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was, in a fundamental way, responsible for the crisis in the country’s Sunni regions and he had to go. Surprise! Maliki was listening.
Aware that his former benefactors in Washington had run out of patience with him, and his domestic support having disappeared long ago, Maliki appears to have executed something that looks a lot like a coup.
“Iraq’s parliament just chose a new President who refused to rename Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki to a third term. Maliki declared the move unconstitutional and his own State of Law Party pulled support from him,” read a report via Pundit Press late Sunday night. “Now his forces are seizing government buildings in Iraq, have closed the airport, and are surrounding the Green Zone.”
While State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf warned CNN anchors on Monday that many need to “take a step back” from the speculation that has dominated the political press regarding a possible coup in Iraq, her boss appeared to be exercising less caution.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the political crisis in Baghdad on Monday. “We stand absolutely squarely behind President [Fuad] Masum (who) has the responsibility for upholding the constitution of Iraq,” Kerry said. “He is the elected president and at this moment Iraq clearly made a statement that they are looking for change.”
Kerry appeared to accuse Maliki of violating the country’s Constitution on Sunday and, on Monday, the Iraqi president named former Chairman of the Finance Committee Haider Al-Abadi the new prime minister of Iraq. In a letter, Maliki appeared to remain defiant and insisted that no new candidate for the post of prime minister is legitimate.
The administration is today engaged in a two-front war in Iraq; a military front against the medieval Islamic State militia group and a political war against the illegitimate Maliki government in Baghdad. What a predicament.
Meanwhile, the president’s advisors and American officials, speaking on background to the press, continue to give an increasingly apocalyptic assessment of the situation in Iraq. On Monday, NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski noted that Pentagon officials believe that a new generation of Americans will have to commit to resolving the situation In Iraq.
“All the planning is for these two limited missions; one, to secure that Kurdish area and stop the advance by the ISIS rebels, the other is to protect those Yazidi worshipers that are trapped aboard the mountain,” Miklaszewski said.
He said that the U.S., along with its NATO allies in France and England, are preparing to create a safe corridor for the Yazidis to transit safely out of the area in which they are trapped. How that is to be accomplished without ground forces, he declined to say.
“There’s always somebody in the building looking at the long-term,” Miklaszewski continued, “and it does not look very good to U.S. military officials I’m talking to.”
“Even if we resolve those two situations, and even if ISIS was somehow contained in Iraq, people are now looking at this as being a 10 to 20-year challenge” he concluded.
In related news, confidence in the administration’s handling of America’s foreign affairs has almost entirely evaporated. Unexpectedly.