In keeping with American interests and values, President Obama rightly authorized limited air strikes to protect U.S. personnel in Irbil and to save tens of thousands of Iraqis. Iraqi citizens interested in seeing ISIS’ advance slowed should be grateful. But after the U.S. military campaign ends, the overall political stalemate and crisis will persist. U.S. officials say that President Obama did not demand the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in return for ordering the airstrikes, and that the timing of the two U.S. policy efforts – ongoing efforts to urge a new inclusive government and U.S. action against ISIS – are occurring on two separate tracks.
Hopefully, the administration’s willingness to intervene militarily will not weaken the political will of the parties themselves. Serious, responsible Iraqi leaders should be unnerved by the vulnerability of Irbil (and the Mosul Dam) and the suffering of the Yazidis stranded on the Sinjar Mountain. The time for talk is over. Today, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani went further than ever in pressing Maliki to leave, saying that those who hold onto power are making a “grave mistake.” It is now up to Maliki’s inner circle and other backers to convince him of the same. Let’s hope that American warplanes are an accelerant, rather than an excuse for delay, of Iraq’s government formation. Only a new, legitimate and inclusive Iraqi government can oversee the political and military efforts required to stop ISIS’ advance.
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