Any talk of warding off foreign intervention in Iraq comes too late: The Iranians already have units on the ground, and the first batch of some 300 U.S. military advisers has arrived in the country.
What is needed now is nonmilitary intervention that will pave the way for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s exit.
Were Maliki to remain in power, this would be little other than hoping for a different outcome despite the same facts on the ground. As long as he remains in charge, the resentment against his sectarian policies will continue, and therefore the opposition to him will maintain an important support base. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria will increase its areas of control, further contributing to the likelihood that the country will break up, with the Kurds in the north already taking advantage of the situation.
Any establishment of a Kurdish state will have ramifications far wider than merely Iraq, with Kurds in Iran, Syria and Turkey undoubtedly joining any new territory. In Iran, such a scenario could even see other minorities, such as the Baluchs, Arabs, Armenians and Christians, beginning to demand their own statelets. The breakup of Iraq into sectarian zones may well trigger an earthquake across the region.
It is important now for Iran and the United States, the two external powers most heavily invested in the Iraqi government and with perhaps the most to lose should the situation continue to slide into chaos, to own up to intervention in the country, but crucially, to use their influence positively and usher Maliki out the door.
Anything else will be in their own interests only, and will provide further evidence that they are colluding against the current state of Iraq.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2014, on page 7.