While the US is alternating between bombing the north of Iraq, and occasionally paradropping MREs and jugs of water to keep up the "noble" facade of intervention, it is very much unclear if Iraq currently has a government and in fact, who is in charge. As reported yesterday, current PM al-Maliki, seemingly unhappy with relinquishing power when a new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi was chosen, decided to conduct what many described as a military coup and encircled the residence of the president. Since then things have gotten quite confusing.
As Reuters summarizes, "Iraq's president named a new prime minister to replace Nuri al-Maliki on Monday, urging him to form a broad government that can stem communal bloodshed, but it was unclear whether Maliki would bow to U.S. and Iranian pressure to step aside. A Shi'ite Muslim blamed by erstwhile allies in Washington and Tehran as well as Baghdad for driving the alienated Sunni minority into revolt, Maliki deployed loyal militias and special forces in the capital on Monday after making a defiant speech accusing the head of state of abusing the constitution.
There was no immediate reaction from Maliki to the naming of Haider al-Abadi as prime minister. However, Maliki's son-in-law, a close political ally, told Reuters that he would seek to overturn the nomination in the courts.
President Fouad Masoum asked Abadi, a leader of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, to lead an administration that can win the support of a parliament elected in April. In remarks broadcast on television, Masoum, an ethnic Kurd, urged him to "form a broader-based government" over the next month.
Abadi, who spent decades in exile in Britain during the rule of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, promptly assumed he was in control and urged national unity against the "barbaric" Islamic State. However, the Maliki faithful have little desire to go gentle into that good night: "We will not stay silent," Maliki's son-in-law Hussein al-Maliki said. "The nomination is illegal and a breach of the constitution. We will go to the federal court to object."
And just to complete the confusion, this is where the US got involved:
After Washington endorsed Masoum's attempts to break three months of post-election political deadlock that have hamstrung Baghdad's response to the Islamic State, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Maliki not to resort to force or "stir the waters" when Iraqis were seeking a change of leader.
In pointed remarks, he said: "The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and calm in Iraq and our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.
"There will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitution process that is in place and being worked on now."
As police and elite armed units, many equipped and trained by the United States, locked down the capital's streets, Kerry added: "There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias in this moment of democracy for Iraq."
Before Abadi's nomination, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman reaffirmed support for a "a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner".
"We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process," she said in a statement, adding that the United States "fully supports" Masoum as guarantor of Iraq's constitution.
This culminated when none other than VP Biden called in: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Haider al-Abadi on Monday for being Iraq's designated new prime minister and pledged U.S. support for an inclusive Iraqi government, the White House said. "The prime minister-designate expressed his intent to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and building a better future for Iraqis from all communities," the White House said in a statement about the telephone call. "The vice president relayed President Obama's congratulations and restated his commitment to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIL," it said.
Of course, if left on its own, the situation would likely have promptly subsided with Maliki quietly exiting stage left. However, now that the US has made its intentions quite clear, and considering the US tracked record in recent years of picking the "winning candidate", suddenly all bets are off.
Then again, it may no longer matter just who, if anyone, is in charge: on Monday, police said the fighters had seized the town of Jalawla, 115 km (70 miles) northeast of Baghdad, after driving out the forces of the autonomous Kurdish regional government.
Because should ISIS take over Baghdad, watch as that that aggressively suppressed "Iraq geopolitical risk" crude premium soars through the roof.
Finally, it is not as if ISIS has no leverage: recall that the nuclear option before the jihadists is still on the table. Should all else fail, it can just blow up the Mosul dam it took over in the past week, flood the Tigris plain and countless Iraqi cities, culminating with Baghdad ending up under 16 feet of water, something which would make life for Joe Biden's son, Hunter, who may then also be named on the board of some leading Iraqi energy company in addition to Ukraine's Burisma, quite unbearable.