The Maliki Dilemma

The recent decision by the largely Sunni Iraqiya party to end its boycott of parliament would seem like an end to Iraq’s crisis. It isn’t. At best, it is a lull.

The crisis that engulfed Baghdad before the last American soldier had even left Iraq was a product of structural problems in Iraqi politics that this week’s events have not even begun to address. However, the Iraqiya decision creates a new opening to begin a process that could eventually deal with these underlying problems. If all sides seize that opportunity, there will be real hope for Iraq. If, as seems more likely, they don’t, Iraq will lurch from crisis to crisis and eventually end up in civil war, an unstable dictatorship or a failed state.

It is important to understand what actually happened this week. Iraqiya ended its parliamentary boycott but not its boycott of meetings of the Council of Ministers. The parliament is due to consider Iraq’s annual budget, and the Iraqi leadership felt it would be disastrous for their party and the communities they represent if they were not present to ensure that they received their fair share of Iraq’s governmental pie. Iraqiya has not ended its ministerial boycott of Council of Ministers meetings, with the result that its ministers are still under suspension by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and it has threatened to withdraw from the parliament again if the prime minister does not end his attacks on them.

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