x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iraq's fractured politics falter as the US departs

The US departure should have been milestone for Iraq. Instead, divisive politics and Al Maliki's Shia bloc threaten to tear the country apart.

So, again, why did the US invade Iraq? Billions of dollars were spent, hundreds of thousands of people died, and the country is still divided along sectarian lines and insecure. Certainly, many Iraqis and others are grateful to the Americans for ousting a vicious dictator, but no one can be grateful for what came after. Iraqi politics in their current form are a disgrace to the many lives lost.

As the last US troops have left the country this week, Baghdad has been facing a deep political crisis. The opposition Iraqiyya Party, the strongest representative of Sunnis in the unity government, boycotted parliament on Saturday. On the surface has been the disupte between Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and an Iraqiyya deputy prime minister, Saleh Al Mutlak. But of course, what is really at stake are all the rivalries and tensions unleashed since the US invasion.

Although the Bush administration showed little concern about it, others were asking questions before the invasion about how the sectarian divide - deliberately inflamed by Saddam Hussein - could be bridged. Some were already predicting a federal solution with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds largely autonomous in their own states; others called that the worst-case scenario. Of course, the subsequent years of unrelenting violence were far worse than that.

It is a grim symbolism that the parliament broke so far apart a day before the definitive exit of US troops. This should have been (and still may be) an anniversary to be celebrated, but people who care about the country's future are instead deeply worried.

Mr Al Maliki has hoarded power particularly since the 2010 elections when his National Alliance bloc technically lost to Iraqiyya. He has formed backroom alliances with former foes and jockeyed his rivals out of the way - in short, some might argue, he has acted the consummate politician.

But the prime minister's political acumen comes at a considerable price. By consolidating an excusively Shia bloc in power, he has pushed Kurds and Sunnis out of the political tent, and if they cannot be represented in Baghdad, they will turn elsewhere. Hence, the federal solution looks more likely by the day. The Kurds have governed their autonomous region in relative peace, although Kirkuk remains a friction point. Could Sunnis do the same in peace with Baghdad?

Today's Iraq has so many problems, from rebuilding to basic security. This fractured Iraq that is emerging, based on the most dangerous fault lines, is not the country Iraqis deserve.