Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast trip this week has been a lesson in the limits of U.S. power and the difficulty of telling friend from foe in a land where alliances can shift as readily as desert sands.
Shortly after Kerry tried to promote cooperation among Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite politicians in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who’s long enjoyed American support, rejected calls to step aside and clear a path toward a more inclusive government.
A day before he met Kerry, the president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region,Massoud Barzani, told CNN that the time may have come for the region to break withBaghdad and pursue independence. In their talks, Barzani was noncommittal in response to Kerry’s urging that he desist, according to a U.S. official who spoke anonymously because the discussions were private.
The U.S. has “very little leverage” with key figures in Iraq, including Maliki, said Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East in Washington. “It is not just a question of credibility, it’s a question of commitment.”