Without resorting to military force or a drawn-out parliamentary battle, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced his decision to resign Aug. 14. Al-Maliki also clarified that he would not seek another position in the government, though he has likely received immunity as party of his retirement package. Put simply, this was not al-Maliki’s decision to make. After he indicated a possible intent to defend his position with force Aug. 10, his support base rapidly dwindled.
Al-Maliki knew his fate was sealed when the Islamic Dawa Party — the country’s largest Shia political party and home to al-Maliki and Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi — aligned with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in expressing its wish for a new prime minister. In short, consensus politics prevailed, and the country’s institutions, from the military to the federal court to the parliament, held up against a deeply embedded threat to political stability during a time of internal crisis. Iraq is exhibiting many weaknesses, but it is not fundamentally broken.
With al-Maliki out of the way, the Iraqi government will focus on the formation of al-Abadi’s new Cabinet and a security plan to unite enough of the Sunni tribal community to counter the Islamic State. There is also greater potential for resuming negotiations to address the long-running energy dispute between Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Baghdad. Even with al-Maliki out of the picture, Baghdad will not acquiesce to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral export of crude oil produced in the north. The Kurds will want to maintain their control over the Kirkuk oil fields, but with the Kurdish peshmerga also under heavy pressure to the north, Arbil will have a harder time resisting calls by Washington and a new government in Baghdad to cooperate on energy matters.