Iraq: beyond the point of no return?

Iraq’s “squabbling political factions” failed to get the process of forming a new government underway on Tuesday, increasing the likelihood of partition “under the strain of the raging insurgency”, says Ruth Sherlock in The Daily Telegraph.

Foreign and domestic powers had hoped this parliamentary session – the first since the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was re-elected in April – would be the “crucial step to forming a unity government” that would draw Sunni tribal support away from the jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

But the session descended into disarray after Sunni MPs, who are required under the constitution to nominate a speaker, refused to do so until they had assurances from the Shia bloc that their candidate would not be the incumbent Maliki.

Maliki’s refusal to address the “legitimate concerns” of Iraq’s Sunni tribes, in favour of maintaining a “close alliance with his fellow Shia backers in Tehran”, is at the root of this crisis, says Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph.

As long as he remains in charge, Iraq will continue to fall apart. He should stand down and “allow Iraqis to choose a leader who represents them all, and not just the majority Shias”.

But it may already be too late. The president of the Kurdistan regional government, Masoud Barzani, says Iraq is already “effectively partitioned” and that a referendum on Kurdistan’s independence will be held “within months”. The de facto Kurdish state has already taken over territory disputed with Baghdad, including the oil city of Kirkuk.

Barzani has said his army will not help the government defeat Isis unless there is
an attempt to reach a political solution to Iraq’s divisions, says Patrick Cockburn in The Independent.

Meanwhile, Isis has commandeered at least three cities in Iraq’s west and some of its centre. It is “taunting” the central government with claims it is imposing a caliphate over a vast area, says Martin Chulov in The Guardian. The announcement has “no practical significance”.

But it shows how far the jihadist group – which also has a presence in Syria and Lebanon – has risen and the impotence of Iraq’s government in dealing with it. Many in Baghdad believe the crisis is beyond the point of no return, with implications for the entire region.