It’s no secret how the US feels about Nouri al-Maliki. The Obama administration has sat on its hands while Iraq comes apart at the seams in part because the White House wants to avoid propping up Maliki, who has spent the last three years alienating the Sunnis and Kurds, weakening Iraq to the point of collapse against ISIS. The US wants Maliki out in order to get a government in Baghdad that can re-engage the coalition put together by the Bush administration in the Anbar Awakening so that the Iraqi military can by itself face the threat without forcing the US to intervene militarily beyond a few air strikes.
After Maliki’s surprise address last night, though, the US doesn’t appear to have much sway. The current Prime Minister deployed special forces loyal to himself in Baghdad in what looks very much like a coup to prevent the new parliament from electing his successor:
Special forces loyal to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad on Sunday night after he delivered a tough speech indicating he would not cave in to pressure to drop a bid for a third term, police sources told Reuters. Pro-Maliki Shiite militias stepped up patrols in the capital, police said. An eyewitness said a tank was stationed at the entrance to Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government buildings. “We can see unprecedented deployment of army commandos and special elite forces … in Baghdad, especially sensitive areas,” one of the police sources said. The report could not immediately by confirmed by NBC News.
CNN offers this first-person perspective from the capital:
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Maliki against a coup, and lined up behind the new President, Kurdish politician Fuad Masum:
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not to cause trouble as he threw his weight behind newly-elected President Fuad Masum to help fight Islamic militants. …
“We stand absolutely squarely behind President Masum (who) has the responsibility for upholding the constitution of Iraq,” Kerry said in Sydney, where he will attend annual US-Australia military talks.
“He is the elected president and at this moment Iraq clearly made a statement that they are looking for change.”
NBC reported that the US is “watching carefully” what happens next in Baghdad, while thousands of Yazidis escaped from the ISIS noose in the last couple of days. The Kurdish Peshmerga regained some territory as ISIS had to deal with American airstrikes:
The Daily Mail says that the US has begun to bypass Baghdad and send arms directly to the Kurds:
The Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, senior U.S. officials said today.
Previously, the U.S. had insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish peshmerga fighters had been losing ground to Islamic State (IS) fighters in recent weeks. …
The U.S. officials wouldn’t say which U.S. agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it isn’t the Pentagon.
Three guesses who’s arming the Peshmerga, and the first two don’t count. Kerry’s bluster aside, the US has no real influence in Baghdad any longer, which the White House made clear with its earlier unmet demands for political reform as a prerequisite for intervention. Maliki made it official last night. The only option left to the US is to arm the Kurds to get an effective fight against ISIS, and apparently leave Baghdad to Iran. If Masum can wrest power away from Maliki and get a Shi’a PM who can work with Kurds and Sunnis, that would be terrific — but he might have to fight through Maliki’s elite forces and Moqtada al-Sadr’s irregulars to have a chance now, and the US endorsement will hardly be a boon to that cause.
Update: In case you didn’t get it in three guesses …
CIA is now providing weapons directly to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Northern Iraq, officials tell @JimMiklaszewski
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 11, 2014
Expect that to shift to the Pentagon soon enough, though. The US has no particular reason to do this covertly now that Maliki’s attempting to hijack the political process.