Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has said that he will not resign from office as members of the US government have requested, even if that means the US will not provide military support against ISIS militants. The Iraqi government has already publicly called for US assistance to help stop a major ISIS offensive that is raging just outside Baghdad and crippling the country’s oil production in Baiji.
Many in the US government view Maliki’s Shiite dominated government as contributing to the sectarian divisions now once again boiling to the surface in Iraq. ISIS and their supporters are Sunnis and part of their grievance against the Maliki government is related to a belief that they are being excluded from power due to their sect. Therefore some, such as the US, hope that if Maliki steps down there will be a chance for reconciliation between the Sunnis and Shiites with a new leader.
But Maliki came to power in an election that the US claimed was free and fair and the idea that America can dictate who leads the government of Iraq is not being well received in Baghdad.
A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said he will not stand down as a condition of US air strikes against Sunni militants who have made a lightning advance across the country.
Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, on Wednesday made a public call on al-Arabiya television for the US to launch strikes, but Barack Obama has come under pressure from senior US politicians to persuade Maliki, a Shia Muslim who has pursued sectarian policies, to step down over what they see as failed leadership in the face of an insurgency.
Regardless of Maliki’s claims to legitimacy, it is clear that some in the Pentagon blame him for the instability in Iraq such as Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey who said Iraqi government forces surrendered in Mosul because “they were uncertain of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government’s unfair treatment of the people of the city.” If General Dempsey’s public vote of no confidence in Maliki is any indication, it appears the Pentagon might be fighting behind the scenes to either stay out or demand Maliki go before they ramp up military action in Iraq.
Yesterday President Obama held a press conference where he said he may launch air strikes against ISIS while ironically claiming Iraqis had to find a way to solve their problems without violence. Whether or not Obama will make those air strikes contingent on Maliki stepping down is hard to say now that Maliki has publicly said he is staying. Obama also claimed that US military force would not be used to support “one sect over another” which is going to be difficult for many Sunnis to believe if the US government uses military force to protect Maliki’s Shiite dominated government.