More and more, it seems that the Obama administration has utterly forgotten about Iraq. With its laser-like focus on Afghanistan and its diplomacy with Iran, it’s rare that Iraq gets any attention. (That’s true, too, even in The Dreyfuss Report.) A whole team of State Department and NSC staff is mobilized on the Iran issue, Afghanistan and Pakistan have their special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and even the Sisyphus-like effort to deal with the Palestine-Israel problem has its own special envoy, George Mitchell. But Iraq is an orphan. At times, it’s like the White House has put Iraq in a box called “George Bush’s blunders,” and it doesn’t plan on looking into the box. There’s no go-to person in the Obama administration for Iraq. Ambassador Christopher Hill, who’s relatively new on the job, isn’t an Arabist or an Iraqi specialist, and he’s taking — perhaps appropriately — a hands-off attitude toward the swirl of Iraqi politics.
But the devastating attacks in Baghdad — twin car bombs that killed more than 150 people and wrecked the Iraqi Ministry of Justice and the provincial council complex — are a sign that Iraq is still simmering. The bombings were very similiar to the August 19 attacks that destroyed the Iraqi foreign ministry and finance ministry. Then, as now, the bombers struck at the very heart of the Iraqi government.
In January, Iraq will hold elections to determine whether Prime Minister Maliki remains in power. The parliamentary elections have spurred numerous Iraqi factions to maneuver in advance of the vote — and most of those factions have armed wings, paramilitary forces and, in the case of the Kurds, whole national armies at their disposal. So far, despite the urgency of the problem, the current Iraqi parliament bas been unable to devise a formula for holding those elections and to pass a law governing them, though there are reports today that a compromise deal has been reached.
The main players in the election drama, so far, are Prime Minister Maliki, a religious Shiite politician from the fundamentalist Islamic Dawa party who’s planning to run as a born-again Iraqi nationalist under his State of Law party banner; a broad coalition of Shiite religious parties, backed by Iran, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc; a secular, centrist bloc organized around former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his Iraqiyya party, which has support from ex-Baathists, nationalist Sunnis, and many secular, nationalist Shiites, too; and, of course, the Kurds, who control their independence-minded fiefdom in three northern provinces of Iraq.