Despite all Nuri Al-Maliki’s attempts to cling to power, which are still ongoing, it is clear that the man is on the way out. Everything that Maliki is doing now is nothing more than an attempt to ensure that he leaves in the best possible position following his expulsion, while his own closest allies have abandoned him. This represents a lesson to Bashar Al-Assad and others in the region.
What is striking in Iraq is the speed with which the regional powers—Saudi Arabia and Iran—rushed to welcome the new Iraqi leadership—President Fuad Massuom, Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi and Speaker of Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri—despite the fact that Maliki, technically, remains in power. This means that both Riyadh and Tehran have acknowledged that the game is up for Maliki, and the that time for change has come. Saudi Arabia has wisely welcomed this change, opening a new page in relations with post-Maliki Iraq. Iran welcomed the change as one swallows a bitter pill and tries to save what can be saved, even though Maliki was their man in Iraq. We saw how Maliki attacked Washington for its congratulation and welcome of Abadi, while he did not utter a word about the Iranian position. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also welcomed Abadi’s appointment, so it is increasingly clear that Maliki is on the way out.
The question that must be asked now is: How could both Saudi Arabia and Iran reach the same position on the importance of change in Iraq? And, more importantly, what lesson can be learnt from this?
Simply put, the answer is that what is happening on the ground—which has led to an unprecedented state of Iraqi division—has resulted in consensus regarding the need to get rid of Maliki, whose failed policies represent a threat to the continued existence of Iraq as a whole. Iran has taken the decision to swallow the bitter pill once more in Iraq and abandon its ally Maliki. As for the Saudis, their biggest concern is ensuring that Iraq returns to its rightful place in the Arab world. Iraq must be an independent state that protects all of its population. All that Saudi Arabia has done with regards to Iraq is to wait by the river long enough to see its enemies float by, as the famous Sun Tzu quote goes. So here we see Iran abandoning Maliki, after backing him for so long.
Very well, but what has Assad got to do with all this?
The only person that should be worried in the region today is Assad, for just as Iran abandoned Maliki today, Tehran will abandon him tomorrow. Iran’s own self-interest is more important than supporting any figure or leader. In fact, Iran would already have abandoned Assad if there was an acceptable figure to replace him. This means that it is up to the influential powers in the region—most prominently Saudi Arabia—to realize an important truth, namely the need to make a difference on the ground in Syria.
While it is true that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been checked by the current US intervention in Iraq, this is not the whole story. There are also the Sunni tribes, and the Kurds, and even the Shi’ites. This means that we must see new developments in the Syrian political scene and on the ground. Ultimately, Hezbollah’s intervention, as well as the involvement of Iran and its Shi’ite militias, are not important given that they could not protect Maliki.
This is the lesson, and it is important that we understand this, and take action to oust Assad, who Maliki tried to protect. Although Assad has outlasted Maliki, it is important to note that Maliki went with Iran’s blessing.