Home inContext New Turmoil in Baghdad While IS Advances

New Turmoil in Baghdad While IS Advances

Michael Johnson

Troops and tanks surged into Baghdad’s Green Zone over the weekend, following new infighting between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and recently elected President Fuad Masum. The latest political turmoil in Iraq came as Islamic State (IS) militants took control of Jalawla, near the Iranian border.

Late last week, President Masum signaled his intent to nominate Haider al-Abadi, a member of Maliki’s “Rule of Law” party, as Prime Minister. But in a televised address on Sunday night, Maliki suggested he would use his current authority to stay in power for third term. The Prime Minister threatened Masum with legal action if Abadi’s nomination continued forward and suggested the Army could be called on to “protect the constitution.” Shortly thereafter, Maliki repositioned troops loyal to him close to government buildings, establishing additional roadblocks and checkpoints. Western officials expressed concern over a looming coup.

Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki (Photo: Embassy of Iraq)

According to Iraq’s constitution, Maliki will remain the caretaker Prime Minister while Abadi forms a government in the next 30 days. Western educated, Abadi is generally seen as a more pragmatic politician than Maliki, engaging with Kurds and Sunnis.

The constitutional standoff comes as Maliki, a Shiite, has acted increasingly authoritarian, especially toward other religious sects in Iraq. Indeed, his repression of the Sunni opposition and firing of prominent Sunnis in Baghdad may have created sympathies for jihadist groups including IS.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military launched airstrikes on IS convoys and artillery in Northwest Iraq, helping thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar to flee east toward Kurdish-controlled areas. American officials at the CIA and the Pentagon also announced that they are arming the Kurdish Peshmerga, fighters loyal to the regional government in Erbil.

With the spread of IS deep into Iraq, the group has created new de facto partitions; IS controlled areas across central Iraq; Kurdish controlled areas in the north; central government controlled areas in the south. But with the latest developments in the Green Zone, Iraq could still fall increasingly apart.