The Washington Post reports that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is the front-runner in Iraq’s national elections to be held next weekend. Abadi is a Shiite, but according to Post reporters Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim, he is popular with the Sunni population in cities like Mosul.
And why not? Abadi helped orchestrate the military campaign that liberated Mosul and other Sunni cities from ISIS. In doing so, he kept a number of Shiite militias out of Mosul because of their ultra-sectarian leanings
Abadi is campaigning on a message of national unity. The message resonates in Mosul, at least according to the Post reporters.
It also resonates in Washington. Abadi worked closely with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Though he maintains “cordial ties” (as the Post puts it) with Iran, he has reestablished relations with Saudi Arabia.
Abadi’s electoral prospects are bolstered by the a split within the sectarian Shiite establishment. His predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, is running on a traditional platform of Shiite supremacy. However, he is “severely diminished” (to again borrow the Post’s phrase) by the astonishing success of ISIS while he was in charge of Iraq.
Hadi al-Amiri, head of the powerful Badr Organization, represents Shiite militias that helped defeat ISIS. Many of those militias, including Badr, are backed by Iran.
Not surprisingly, the Amiri campaign calls for the expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq. However, with the Amiri and Maliki slates dividing the hard core Shiite vote, Alabi’s prospects look good. Or so says the Washington Post.
The U.S. intervention in Iraq 15 years ago will always be highly controversial — all the more so because of the disastrous consequences that flowed from President Obama’s subsequent decision to pull out entirely. However, when foreign policy “realists” complain that the U.S. disturbed a stable situation, and assume that the status quo we overturned would have continued indefinitely, they are being unrealistic.
Saddam Hussein would almost certainly have responded to Iran’s nuclear program by reviving up his own. And the events of 2011 — the so-called Arab Spring — would almost certainly have hit hard in Iraq, where Saddam was sitting on the tinderbox of an oppressed Shiite majority population.
The best approximation of what Iraq would look like today absent U.S. intervention is Syria, where a similar tinderbox exploded in 2011. Syria, with some level of nuclear capability. The second best approximation is Iran, following a bloody war in which Iranian forces and local Shiite militias prevailed.
The Post’s assessment of the upcoming Iraq election may be too sanguine. I don’t know. But even if it is, the situation in Iraq is vastly better — both for the U.S. and the Iraqis — than those in Syria and Iran.