Iraq – 7/17

Kurdish leaders warn of strains with Maliki

Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and the Iraqi government are closer to war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Kurdish prime minister said Thursday, in a bleak measure of the tension that has risen along what U.S. officials consider the country’s most combustible fault line.

In separate interviews, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the region’s president, Massoud Barzani, described a stalemate in attempts to resolve long-standing disputes with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s emboldened government. Had it not been for the presence of the U.S. military in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani said, fighting might have started in the most volatile regions.

The conflict is one of many that still beset Iraq, even as violence subsides and the U.S. military begins a year-long withdrawal of most combat troops from the country. There remains an active sectarian conflict, exacerbated by insurgent groups that seem bent on reigniting Sunni-Shiite carnage. There is also a contest underway in Baghdad to determine the political coalition that will rule the country after next year’s elections. But for months, U.S. officials have warned that the ethnic conflict pitting Kurds against Arabs, or more precisely the Kurdish regional government against Maliki’s federal government in Baghdad, poses the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability and could persist for years. [continued…]

A Shiite schism on clerical rule

As Iran simmers over its disputed presidential election, Shiite clerics in Iraq are looking across the border with a sense of satisfaction that they have figured out a more durable answer to a question that has beset Shiite Islam for centuries: What role should religion play in politics?

No one in this city, which stands as the world’s most venerable seat of Shiite scholarship, is boasting. Nor is there any swagger among the most senior clerics and their retinue of turbaned students and advisers. Befitting the ways of the tradition-bound Shiite seminary, points are made in whispers and hints, through allegories and metaphor.

But three decades after the Iranian revolution brought to power one notion of clerical rule — and six years after the fall of Saddam Hussein helped enshrine another version of religious authority here — the relationship between religion and the state in Iraq, clerics here say, seems more enduring than the alternative in neighboring Iran. [continued…]

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