Endgame: Maliki to step down, support Abadi as new prime minister of Iraq

America was tired of him, Iran was tired of him, the Sunnis were really tired of him, even the country’s Shiite-in-chief thought it was time for him to move along. There’s no doubt he would have dug in on last weekend’s attempted coup if he thought the military would protect him, but they were prepared to cut him loose as well.

And so an ignominious reign ends with a whimper.

It was Sistani’s letter a few days ago demanding a new prime minister that sunk him, apparently. Without a Shiite base of support, he had nothing.

Whether you think this is good news or bad news depends on whether you think Iraq can and should be preserved as a nation. With Abadi now in charge, the U.S. will be inclined to stick with the dream of a single multisectarian Iraq for awhile longer. Maybe Abadi can make nice with the Sunnis, which in turn would make things harder for ISIS in Anbar province. If the Sunni chieftains there now have a reason to reconcile with Baghdad, there might be a new Awakening in the offing. Good news! On the other hand, bad news: The more the U.S. clings to the “one Iraq” idea, the more it necessarily resists the idea of an independent Kurdistan. It could be that Abadi’s going to get a trial run from the White House to see how he does in making the Iraqi army less sectarian and in making sure the Kurds get their fair share of U.S. aid and arms. If he follows Maliki’s lead and tilts towards Shiite hegemony, Obama can pull the plug quickly and throw in with the Kurds. And then that’s the end of Iraq as far as America’s concerned.

Why did Iran end up pulling the plug on Maliki, though? Did they conclude, anticipating Sistani’s move, that he had lost so much support even among Shiites that he was no longer an effective proxy? Or were they worried that Iraq really was on the verge of breaking up, with Baghdad about to lose what little influence it still has over the Kurds and Kurdish oil assets?

Update: Some people on Twitter are celebrating the fact we finally, finally have a peaceful transition of power in a democratic Iraq, which will hopefully set a precedent for governments to come. I guess, but Maliki only took the civilized route when he had exhausted all other options and alienated pretty much the entire country. He left because he couldn’t find enough people in the military to keep him in power at gunpoint. He could have done this years ago — and had the opportunity — but fought bitterly to keep power, and now the country’s on the brink of breaking apart and being overrun by barbarians. Some victory.

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