Only a short time after the last American convoy left Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, “accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats.” Analysts fear this may fuel rising sectarian tensions which may eventually lead to a civil war. “Hashimi was in the northern region of Kurdistan, meeting with Kurdish officials.”
This took place as a large parliamentary bloc announced its intention to boycott attendance at the lawmaking body. “The standoff pits Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, against one of his most nettlesome partners in Iraq’s government, the Iraqiya coalition, a multisectarian group with wide support among secular Iraqis and Sunni Muslims.”
In announcing its boycott, Iraqiya accused Mr. Maliki’s government of arbitrarily arresting aides and security guards who work for Iraqiya leaders, and blamed him for failing to stem a recent welter of unrest in the largely Sunni province of Diyala. Local leaders in Diyala recently voted to seek more autonomy from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, a move that provoked unruly demonstrations, mostly by Shiites.
Trouble in Diyala province has disrupted a key route to Baghdad. Looming over all was the shadow of Iran. With the American withdrawal from Iraq there were fears that Teheran might use the opportunity to extends its influence over Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Eli Lake reports that “the Obama administration handed over terrorism suspect Ali Musa Daqduq to Baghdad’s government, dealing a blow to U.S. military and intelligence officials who wanted him tried by a U.S. tribunal on charges he plotted the killings of five American soldiers … U.S. intelligence fears he will eventually be released to Iran, where he has been linked to Hizbullah and the notorious Quds Force.”
What signal that sends is for the diplomats to puzzle out, but it probably means “I still want to be your friend”.
Developments in Iraq leave the administration’s policy with Iran at a crossroads. The President seems determined to leave all his options open. He appears to be reluctant to use the one non-military tool at his disposal for fear it may be too tough. “Though Obama brags about how tough he is about Iran, the administration made it very clear it was not happy about Congress actually giving it the one tool it needs — a ban on dealings with Iran’s Central Bank – that could make an oil embargo a reality.”
But if a Sunni-Shia conflict develops in Iraq, an event that seems increasingly likely, then Iran may be drawn in. Then the gauntlet will be thrown down at Washington in a way that requires President Obama to either fight or fly; abject himself or salvage some measure of dignity. He may still want to kick the can down the road, but at that point, he will have run out of road.