“Fall of Ramadi Weakens Rule of Iraq Leader”
The New York Times, May 19, 2015, p.A1
“As Shiite militiamen began streaming toward Ramadi on Monday to try to reverse the loss of the city to the Islamic State, the defeat has given new momentum to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s rivals within his own Shiite political bloc. At the urging of American officials who sought to sideline the militias, Mr. Abadi had, in effect, gambled that the combination of United States airstrikes and local Sunni tribal fighters would be able to drive Islamic State fighters out of the city as fighting intensified in recent weeks. The hope was that a victory in Ramadi could also serve as a push for a broader offensive to retake the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. But as the setback brought the Shiite militias, and their Iranian backers, back into the picture in Anbar, intensified Shiite infighting appeared to leave the prime minister more vulnerable than ever. And it presented a new example of how developments on the Iraqi battlefield have sometimes instantly shifted political currents in the country. … Mr. Abadi’s rivals within Iraq’s Shiite political bloc have been accusing him for months of doing too much to work with Sunnis rather than empowering the militias and fellow Shiites. … Some Shiite politicians, including Mr. Maliki, and powerful militia leaders linked to Iran, whose fighters are now preparing to fight in Anbar, have become increasingly critical of Mr. Abadi. Either they have spoken out themselves or news media outlets they control have taken aim at the prime minister through distorted coverage that has highlighted security failures in Anbar. In one instance, the television news channel Afaq, which is run by allies of Mr. Maliki, gave running coverage to the supposed slaughter of 140 army soldiers last month at an outpost in Anbar, spurring public criticism of Mr. Abadi. Western diplomats and military officials say the story was untrue, and the Islamic State, notably, never claimed to have killed that many. The effect, though, was to undermine Mr. Abadi’s rule, analysts said. There were calls for Mr. Abadi to resign. … An official close to Mr. Abadi, who spoke anonymously to discuss private conversations, related a joke that has been told among the prime minister’s inner circle: ‘Even if two fish fight in the river, it is Maliki stirring them up.’ The official added, of Mr. Abadi, ‘He is obsessed with Maliki.'”
Quickie analysis: In a battle of priorities between domestic politics and fighting the most successful terrorist group in modern history, the obvious winner is…domestic politics.