The political vacuum that has left Iraq without a government since the March 2010 elections is close to being filled as a result of two key developments. First, Kurdistania Alliance, which holds 43 seats in Iraq's parliament, has opted to join Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition. Secondly, Iran has constructively persuaded the Iraqi Shia leader, the ‘anti-American' cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who lives in exile in Qom, to back Mr. al-Maliki. The 70 seats of the Sadrist Iraqi National Alliance will give the State of Law a comfortable majority. The al-Maliki group as well as Iyad Allawi's ‘secular-nationalist' Iraqiya List, which won 89 and 91 seats respectively in the polls, were way short of the 163 needed for a majority; longstanding factional and other disputes also impeded government formation. Iran's political diplomacy followed the departure of the last U.S. combat troops in September. Tehran received Mr. al-Maliki for talks and then brokered the Qom meeting. In a far-reaching move, Iran involved Syria as well as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah for enhanced leverage.
The manifest disappointment of Mr. Allawi, who was installed as interim prime minister following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, is being compensated through the Iraqiya getting the speakership of parliament as well as leadership of a committee overseeing national security. But what stands out here is Iran's rising importance in the region. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Mr. al-Maliki withdrew ambassadors in the middle of 2009 following the latter's public accusation that Syria was involved in bombing government buildings in Baghdad — but Iran has now brought Mr. Assad on board. Secondly, only Iran could have persuaded Mr. al-Sadr to back Mr. al-Maliki after talks between the two had failed. Thirdly, the Iraqi people are, on this evidence, realistic about the role their neighbour can and will play in their country. That in turn throws the spotlight on the kind of withdrawal the U.S. intends to make. The invaders have built and staffed several huge and effectively permanent military bases in Iraq. The imponderable is how all this will play militarily and politically, with Maliki-Sadrist pre-eminence in governance? It was Washington that provided Tehran with this significant opening by switching support from Mr. Maliki to Mr. Allawi after the election. Without a stable and lasting political dispensation, Iraq will be unable to recover from the terrible destruction wrought by the illegal U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Iran's constructive engagement with Iraq must therefore be welcomed by political India, despite the contrary message President Barack Obama delivered during his recent visit.