The Buzz

Mayhem and Marigolds

It’s a big week for Iraq. Leaders of the Arab League are descending upon Baghdad for their annual summit, a meeting that has studiously avoided the Iraqi capital for several years.

The Economist effectively points out the importance of this occasion to Iraq. If all goes well, the summit could “draw a curtain over the country’s battered image as occupied, violent and dysfunctional” and mark “a triumphant return to the Arab fold.”

Unfortunately, there are few indications that all will, in fact, go well. Despite Baghdad’s best efforts at everything from beautifying the city with a blanket of marigolds to resolving outstanding disputes with its Arab neighbors, it faces two menaces that threaten to wreck the impending summit: al-Qaeda’s Iraqi offshoot and Bashar al-Assad.

The Economist addresses the first threat, noting the damage done by the bombs that ripped through Iraq last week, when the attackers seemingly penetrating tightened capital security with ease. But it pays scant attention to a more existential threat—that of diplomatically addressing the Syrian insurrection without upsetting its patron, Iran, or marking itself as a Shiite traitor among the mostly Sunni Arab League leaders.

As Kenneth Pollack recently pointed out on this site, Prime Minister Maliki finds himself in an exceedingly uncomfortable position. He must balance the need to convince skeptical Sunni Arab leaders he shares their desire to squeeze Syria and simultaneously assure Iran, which has repeatedly come to Iraq’s aid when the aforementioned Sunni Arab leaders ostracized Maliki and was ultimately responsible for keeping him in power after the 2010 elections, that he will not permanently turn against Tehran’s beloved Assad.

The Economist briefly references this dilemma, noting that “Iraq’s attempt to loosen Iran’s embrace may be short-lived. With its links to Shia political parties and religious figures, Iranian power has much deeper roots in Baghdad than the marigolds in the Green Zone.” But the piece would have benefited from a deeper analysis of the precarious position in which Maliki finds himself as he tries to host his sometime nemeses and appease his sometime patron.  This significant shortcoming makes the analysis a mixed bag.