There’s been a brief break in the storm clouds over Baghdad and Kabul this week; both countries’ struggles to form governments after elections achieved minor progress with the election of a parliament speaker in Iraq and an agreement to audit election results in Afghanistan. But the domestic dysfunction is deep, and cannot be easily resolved. The only possible good news is the demonstrated capacity of U.S. diplomacy to play a constructive role in cajoling the parties to compromise.
Iraq is the more acute situation, on the ground and in terms of enduring strategic American interests. The incursion by radical Islamist forces into Sunni-majority swaths of Iraqi territory presents a deep crisis of legitimacy for the government in Baghdad, and has already undermined the “territorial integrity and unity” of the Iraqi state, sacrosanct principles of U.S. and international policy toward Iraq. The stunning insensitivity of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has alienated both Sunnis and Kurds, has been a growing concern for Western partners of Iraq, but it took the Islamic State’s dramatic invasion to focus the minds. The dilemma now is how to work with diverse Iraqi political forces to form a more inclusive government, without necessarily repudiating the electoral process, which did, after all, produce more votes for Maliki than any other party or leader.
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