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What is Iraq’s fate in the hands of Maliki?

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vows Iraq will make a stand against the ISIL. What are his options?

Ray’s thoughts on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Iraq's prime minister is under pressure and under scrutiny. Maliki was re-elected in the latest round of Iraqi voting, but the territory where is government is in charge is shrinking.

President Barack Obama has ruled out sending the U.S. military back into Iraq, but he says the United States is examining all its options. One of those options appears to be talking to Iran, a close friend of the Maliki government but long a U.S. opponent.  

In an interview with Yahoo News on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States may be willing to reach out to Iran to help stabilize Iraq.

He said, "We are open to any constructive process here to minimize the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces."

His comments came as diplomats continued talks over Iran's nuclear program in Vienna. How the U.S. and Iran might collaborate is an open question, but Iran has strongly denounced the violence.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said, "We won't tolerate this violence, this terror, and in turn, as we announced at the United Nations, we will fight violence, extremism and terrorism in the region and around the world."

Maliki has vowed to retake every inch of the territory claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying, "We have retaken the initiative, and here we are advancing to defeat them with you and with your brothers in the armed forces and with all those who stood by the will of the Iraqi people. We have started to march toward them, and there will be no place to hide."

Maliki has asked the United States for help in the fight. That request includes air strikes and drone attacks. Obama said that all options are on the table. The Pentagon has ordered aircraft carriers to the Gulf region in case Obama chooses to strike. He has repeatedly called on Maliki to bring all the factions together to seek a political solution to the crisis.

Maliki has been prime minister since 2006 but has long since lost the support of some factions in the country. 

With his history of sectarian and authoritarian leadership, can he bring his country together as the crisis deepens? We consulted two Iraq experts for the Inside Story.

Derek Harvey

Derek Harvey is a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He is the senior executive service member of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was the senior analytical specialist for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq. In 2009 he was the director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence at U.S. Central Command.

Can Maliki pull Iraq out of chaos?

Derek Harvey: I think Nouri al-Maliki has a challenge. He does not have political capital nor trust in him to make the necessary deals with fellow Shiites, Kurds and, most important, Sunnis who are represented in the uprising.

This is not just about ISIL, but other insurgent organizations provide depth, and it includes many of the Sons of Iraq and former soldiers and politicians who worked with the U.S. forces in the past. Why would these Sunni Arabs want to make a deal with Maliki when he reneged on reintegration and reconciliation promises and purged them as he has over the last several years?

Officers from all sects and ethnicities demonstrated competency in the Iraqi security forces and also demonstrated loyalty to the state of Iraq.  Why would they make a deal with the prime minister who has already betrayed them several times?

Prime Minister Maliki's direct control of the ministries of Defense and Interior as well as micromanagement of command and control of the security apparatus has undermined the effectiveness of the military and potentially poses a threat to all parties of Iraq. There is not much room there for compromise right now, as Shia leaders are rallying around the idea that we need to protect the Shia community — so they will stick with Malik for now. And that is what you are seeing now.  

You will not see the prime minister take actions to bring unity. He has had years to do so, and he will not change.  In fact, he will likely harden his position against the Sunni Arabs. So we should not have much hope for change. Nouri al-Maliki had eight years to unify the country, and he has not done it.

ISIL would have never gotten a foothold in the north if we had maintained residual control.

Derek Harvey

former analyst for coalition forces in Iraq

You were in Iraq as a part of the transitional team. What went wrong?

The security situation was significantly improved because we maintained a robust security apparatus and brought a surge of ideas. And more important, the U.S. acted as an honest broker, helping to build those relationships. The key is continuity and consistency in helping build these relationships.

When we left Iraq, what happened is that Prime Minister Maliki started his sectarian agenda, and no one was able to check him. He disbanded Sons of Iraq, disbanded reconciliation efforts. In addition, agreements that were made were broken. People were arrested and held without charges.  

That check on the sectarian agenda left when the U..S military left. It would have taken more time to get through the political process, and to gain more time, the U.S. needed to stay more engaged. If you look at other places, like Korea, it took us almost 50 years to get to the point where transition from authoritarian governance to the democratic process succeeded. We did the same thing in other places.

It would have been matter of time without the coaching and the guidance to put a check on negative behavior and provide confidence to Iraqis. ISIL would have never gotten a foothold in the north if we had maintained residual control. 

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Douglas Ollivant

Douglas A. Ollivant is the senior vice president and a managing partner of Mantid International, a strategic consulting firm. A former National Security Council director for Iraq, he is also a senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation. He served in Iraq as the chief of plans for Multi-National Division in Baghdad in 2006 and 2007. He led the planning team that designed the U.S. and coalition portion of what became known as the surge.

Can Maliki succeed in Iraq?

Douglas A. Ollivant: There are two problems here. One is this paramilitary radical ISIL group that is seizing a lot of territory in Iraq and Syria. And the second is the dysfunctional politics in Iraq. They’re all sectarian. Maliki gets the bulk of blame because he in charge and there is lack of trust on all sides. 

Maliki is no Nelson Mandela because there's no F.W. de Klerk on the other side. 

What went wrong?

Syria. The problem is the United States left Iraq in a state that was something that Iraqis could handle. Their polices were fragile, but management and security threats were a minor issue.

The threat in Syria increased the problem. It changed the politics and made the Sunni citizens of Iraq, who had reconciled with losing the civil war in 2006 through 2007, look across border and see other Sunnis rising against their leaders.  

What needs to happen on the U.S. front?

In the immediate term, the only choice President Obama has to deal with the crisis is, Do you use power or not? Binary choice.

In the longer term, we can talk about political reform, greater intelligence sharing of the Iraqi army. In immediate terms, air power is the only option on the table. 

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