Uncertain impact

The resignation of Nauri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq may have come too late as the country is in the vortex of a civil and military conflict which is tearing it apart.

Another Shia leader, Haider al-Abadi,  who has greater acceptability within the country and outside, has been named the new prime minister. This has come after the election of a new assembly speaker and president.

Maliki’s exclusionary and discriminatory policies against the minority Sunnis and the Kurds and his authoritarian style for eight years have contributed in no small measure to the present political and military crisis. He had refused to step down and had even raised the threat of a coup to remain in power.  But international and domestic pressure, including from the top Shia religious leadership, seems to have worked.

There is now a possibility of the formation of a new government under Haider al-Abadi which will better represent minorities and tribal groups. The immediate impact of such a political arrangement on the military situation in northern and western Iraq is uncertain.

The Sunni fighters led by the al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State (IS) have captured large parts of these areas and are pushing to the capital Baghdad. They have also posed a threat to the Kurds in their autonomous province. The Iraqi armed forces and the Kurds have been ineffective in stopping the advance.

Thousands of people including Christians and members of the animist Yazidi faith have fled, and a total of 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced till now. There have also been reports of massacre of the Yazidis by the fundamentalist IS. The plight of the refugees, who face prospects of attacks, death, starvation and disease, is severe.

The US has started airstrikes on the IS positions and are supporting the Kurdish forces which are battling the IS fighters. US allies like Britain are also extending military assistance to the Kurds.

The UN Security Council has decided to take steps to choke financial and other aid to the Islamic fighters. But the situation is dire and the existence of Iraq as a nation is in danger. Iraq is still suffering from the consequences of the US-led invasion of that country which fractured it along ethnic, sectarian and religious lines.

While the IS has to be defeated militarily now, the prospects of peace and normalcy in Iraq will depend on the installation and working of an inclusive government in the country.

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