While President Obama proclaimed "it is not the place for the United States to choose Iraq’s leaders," it appears that Iraq's current prime minister Maliki's days are numbered. At least three people, who like Mr. Maliki are all members of the Shiite majority, have emerged as possible candidates to take over, but as NY Times makes clear, they face an uphill battle as any prospective successor must convince Iraq’s Sunni Muslims and its ethnic Kurds that he can hold Iraq together, as well as vanquish a Sunni-led insurgency. The Sunnis are adamant that change is needed, "we will not allow a third term for the prime minister; they must change him if they want things to calm down," but it is the statement from the top Shiite cleric that it is time for a new government that likely put the final nail in Maliki's coffin. The only problem... his replacements are far from angelic reformers.
As NY Times explains, everyone has demands and no one is happy...
...a new leader must find a way to assuage the many demands of the Sunnis and Kurds, who have long complained of being unequal partners in the country and view the negotiations to pick a new prime minister and other central figures as a rare moment when they have the leverage to enhance their political power and right what they perceive as past injustices.
The Kurds want the Iraqi central government to recognize the contested city of Kirkuk, endowed with oil, as part of the autonomous Kurdish territory they have carved out in the north. The Kurds also want assurances that they can sell the oil from Kurdistan without oversight from the central government.
The Sunnis want to lead at least one security ministry, such as defense or interior, and control some of the other powerful ministries such as education or higher education, both rich in patronage and jobs.
And since the US got invloved, things have become ever more segregated...
Baghdad became highly segregated in the years after the American-led invasion of Iraq. The city’s many mixed neighborhoods hardened into enclaves along religious and ethnic divisions.
It is far from clear, however, whether any of the suggested successors could gather enough votes.
The names floated so far — Adel Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi and Bayan Jaber — are from the Shiite blocs, which have the largest share of the total seats in the Parliament.
So here they are...
Mr. Mahdi came within a vote of winning the prime minister’s job in 2006 and previously served as one of Iraq’s vice presidents. He is viewed as a moderate who has long worked well with the Kurds.
Mr. Chalabi is a complex figure who has alternately charmed and infuriated the Americans but has ties both to them and to Iran. His biggest liability could be his uncompromising support for the systematic purge of many Sunnis from government jobs after the American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party a decade ago. Mr. Chalabi now says he supports terminating the basis for that purge, the so-called de-Baathification law.
Mr. Jaber, a minister of interior in the transitional Iraqi government and later finance minister, could also face problems. He is alleged to have allowed abuse and torture of prisoners when he was in the Interior Ministry, and it is unclear whether he has much widespread support.
As Obama added, "right now is the moment where the state of Iraq hangs in the balance," and we suspect that a change of leaders will do little to assuage the ISIS surge.
Ironically, Maliki has recently sought to bolster support for himself by falling back on an Obama trick...
His most recent play for support was to offer salaries to the volunteers who are signing up to fight in government-sanctioned militias that are partly under the auspices of the army. With hundreds of thousands of men offering to join the fight, he is effectively reaching out to the Shiite street and potentially making it harder for Shiite politicians to work against him.
On Thursday, the Iraqi government announced that it would start paying those volunteers what amounts to a living wage, about $730, roughly half what an Iraqi soldier is paid.
Let's see how that works out...