The dizzyingly rapid gains by ISIS on the ground in Iraq will not be remedied by a military response, but rather by systemic changes within Iraqi political and institutional structures, and the removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria may well delay their advances in the short term, but the only chance of minimizing the threat posed by ISIS in the long term is to address the underlying roots of the problem.
And it is up to Iraq’s best friends, both the U.S. and Iran, to stress to Maliki that no real change can come about without changing the direction of his policies or his departure from governance.
A sharp uptick in car bombs and suicide attacks across the country by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups should have alertedMaliki to the growing discontent among much of the country’s Sunni population, and that this has been directly caused by his policies.
As Saddam before him marginalized Shiites, Maliki has done the same with Sunnis, denying them equal access to jobs and services. Endemic corruption among his ruling oligarchy has been all too evident in recent days: a 1-millionstrong army, funded at a cost of $25 billion to the U.S. Treasury, was unable or unwilling to hold off advances by a crude militia group.
The fact that ISIS has faced little backlash from civilian populations in the areas it has won shows how people feel so acutely neglected by the government in Baghdad.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted Friday that Maliki needs to do more to “put sectarian differences aside.” Until Maliki himself is removed from power, ISIS is going nowhere.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2014, on page 7.