With Maliki out, what changes?

Nouri al-Maliki seems to be out as prime minister of Iraq, though he’s not going quietly. Haider al-Abadi’s has been asked to form a new Iraqi government.

Maliki’s downfall became inevitable, says the Washington Post, when the massively influential Ayatollah Sistani wrote a letter to Dawa leaders saying that, due to the “critical circumstances” Iraq faces, a “new vision” is necessary. Dawa is the powerful Shiite political party which Maliki has led.

Sistani may have been key to Maliki’s demise, but Iran was key to Abadi’s ascension. According to the Post:

Among the Shiite leaders seen as possible alternatives, Abadi seemed slow to win Iran’s favor, in part because he had spent time in exile in London, not Tehran.

“But after they met him and realized that Iraq need a change, they supported him,’’ Shubbar [an Iraqi parliamentarian] said.

Iran’s stance was made official on Wednesday when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he hoped Abadi would form a new government, teaching a lesson to those who “aim for sedition” in Iraq.

With Maliki out and Abadi in, what changes? First, President Obama loses his main excuse for not strongly supporting Iraq against the surging barbarians of ISIS. But Obama’s reluctance to engage ISIS was never really based on the defects of Maliki. And he can always find another excuse if he likes.

Second, the new government presumably will be better disposed towards the Kurds than the Maliki regime was. But in recent days, the Maliki government has provided some help for the Kurds. And the underlying dispute between the central government and the Kurds over oil revenue will remain difficult to resolve regardless of who is in charge in Baghdad.

Third, the big question is whether new government will earn sufficient trust from Sunnis to bring them back into fold in the fight against ISIS. I don’t know. But given Iran’s role in selecting the prime minister and, more generally, its influential place at the table, there is room for skepticism.

To borrow Obama’s pet locution (but not his profanity), the notion that replacing one Iranian-backed government with another will somehow magically bring about national reconciliation is questionable.

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