If there is a single, immediate formula that can lead to a solution to Iraqi crisis, it’s that the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki must be replaced with an inclusive, all-party government. Even the supporters of Maliki would agree that much of the blame for all that has been happening in the country can be laid at the door of Maliki. If he had ruled by taking all factions and sects with him, Iraq would be heading in a different direction today – a very promising one.
But whatever the reasons Maliki might have to choose this dangerous, destructive path, justice seems to be catching up with him. In the biggest blow to his prime-ministership since the current crisis began, Iraq’s most influential Shia leader yesterday expressed his lack of faith in the prime minister. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who commands unswerving loyalty from many Shias in Iraq and beyond, called on the country’s leaders to choose a new prime minister within the next four days. It’s a dramatic intervention that could hasten the end of Maliki’s eight-year rule, and one which the prime minister hadn’t expected.
In fact, Ali Sistani’s intervention sends two powerful messages; first, that the divisive, exclusionary policies pursued by Maliki were his own and didn’t enjoy the support of the Shia clergy, and second, the supreme leader is in favour of a leader who can connect with all sects and ethnicities of Iraq. This stance opens a new opportunity to end the crisis. Ali Sistani needs to take another step in the interest of the country and engage with the country’s Sunni religious leadership.
Sistani’s order will make it difficult for Maliki to stay on as caretaker leader. This leaves him with two options: form a coalition by inviting his rivals to join the government or step aside. He has already expressed his unwillingness to form a coalition, but it’s not known if he would stick to that position after the latest order from the supreme Shia authorities.
It’s not Sunnis alone who are dissatisfied with Maliki. The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region has also said Maliki should go. Sunnis accuse him of excluding them from power and repressing their sect, driving armed tribal groups to back the insurgency led by ISIL.
It’s surprising that an elected leader could become so polarizing. The conflict shows all of Maliki’s calculations have gone terribly wrong. The wounds he had inflicted on Iraqi society and the political system are deep and hard to heal, and if the current situation worsens and the country heads towards a carving up along sectarian lines, Maliki’s name will appear in history as the architect of this division.