The formation of an inclusive, multi-sectarian government in Iraq was a key element of the Obama administration’s response to the fall of Mosul this past June and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as a strategic threat, notes Marc Sievers, the Diplomat-in-Residence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former political minister-counselor at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s new government appears to embody this policy goal, he writes for the Fikra Forum:
In 2010, the United States was deeply involved in the negotiations to form a similarly representative Iraqi government, which finally emerged in December 2010. The effort was serious and the outcome appeared at the time to represent a significant success. However, understanding Maliki’s subsequent failure to stabilize Iraq and especially the collapse of efforts to include Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish communities in the government, should yield critically relevant lessons.
Observers and local actors were taken aback by ISIS’s emergence, said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Laith Kubba.
“All the signs were there. Nobody wanted to read them,” he told PBS. “They moved from being an offshoot, a terrorist group — and there, people might think we can live with terrorist groups and the skirmishes they create, but this has become an army of 10,000 to 15,000, very well-equipped with rocket launchers, some air missile — missiles, and they are so coordinated.’
“I’m not really sure if they can hold territory for long, but certainly they have achieved their objective in saying, we’re a force, and I think hundreds will join them, and this is going to become a regional problem,” he said.
Now, thanks in part to ISIS’s brutality and active U.S. and regional diplomacy, Iraq has a rare second chance at success, and there are critical lessons that policymakers should learn from the experience of the second Maliki government, Sievers contends:
The first is that filling the key security ministries with competent, broadly accepted ministers and deputy ministers must be a top priority. Nothing undermined the cohesion of Iraq’s first inclusive government more than the prolonged failure to reach agreement regarding the defense and interior ministries. Second, the Kurds’ mediating role is critical, and addressing the oil revenue issue along the lines of agreements already worked out in the past, but never implemented, should help preserve a sense of mutual interest and common cause between Baghdad and Erbil. Third, Iraq’s political class of all backgrounds shows positive signs of recognizing that they must hang together or they will surely hang separately.