Iraq's new PM faces job akin to uncracking an egg

Arriving at Irbil’s vast and shiny airport this morning, it’s a slightly incongruous and disconcerting thought that the Islamic State’s fighters are all of 35 minutes’ drive away over the dusty desert.

At that distance, the west can hardly say it should not have seen this crisis coming.

It is two months since the murderous jihadists routed the Iraqi army at Mosul, sending tens of thousands of Shia Muslims and Christians fleeing for their lives.

Kurdish peshmerga troops participate in a deployment against Islamic State militants. Credit: Reuters

With weapons seized from Syria’s army and US-supplied hardware from Iraqi forces, they have forged alliances with local Sunni tribes, alienated by the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

So success has bred success. The west’s hope is that it has also bred over-confidence and, in turning on Kurdistan, over-stretch, with extended supply lines vulnerable to US air-strikes.

If western policy was characterised by inaction before the plight of the Yazidis demanded action, it is characterised by caution now.

It boils down to boosting the arsenal of the Kurds' outgunned Peshmerga fighters and trying to resolve the political turmoil in the Iraqi capital.

So; weapons to the Kurds and a new prime minister in Baghdad who will try to rule in a less sectarian manner.

Two boxes ticked and job done? Hardly.

Haider al-Abadi faces a daunting task in uniting Iraq. Credit: Reuters

The Kurds might hold the Islamic State, but they won’t defeat them and the disaffection of the Sunnis is so great and so ingrained that Prime Minister-designate Haider Al Abadi’s task might be akin to uncracking an egg.

He admitted as much today, speaking of huge and dangerous challenges. “We can overcome disunity. I won’t offer unrealistic promises, but I pledge that I will do my best to serve our people and our nation,’’ he wrote on his Facebook page.

In the end, it might be impossible to put Iraq back together again. Like it or not, we are in it for the long haul again.

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