Not since the brutal sectarian conflict that engulfed the country in 2006 and 2007 has Iraq been as dangerously close as it is now to civil war. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, eager to close the chapter on the U.S. invasion, is portraying the country as a democratic model for the Middle East. The reality is that the U.S. is leaving behind a budding police state.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to purge his opponents and consolidate his authority. He is now on the verge of abandoning last year’s power-sharing agreement, which formed a government of national unity. Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi has fled to Kurdistan after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, a decision that added to sectarian tensions. In the weeks before the U.S. military withdrawal, Mr. al-Maliki rounded up hundreds of Iraqis accused of being former Baath Party members. Security forces detain and abuse dissenting academics, activists and journalists with impunity, yet they are not being effective against vicious and spectacular assaults by terrorists, such as the ones that killed more than 70 Iraqis, mostly civilians, last week.
Mr. al-Maliki is right to use his security forces against the scourge of chronic terrorism. Extremists are determined to defeat what they see as an American-imposed democracy, no matter how many civilians are slaughtered in the process. But Mr. al-Maliki, who left Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with a death warrant against him, should know all too well the repercussions of authoritarianism. If Iraq’s fragile democracy is to have a chance, he and the country’s leaders must subordinate their own political interests, to avoid risking a partitioning of Iraq or a return to one-man-one-party rule.
The Obama administration is proceeding with the sale to Iraq of almost $11-billion in weapons and training. However, U.S. and international assistance to Iraq’s security forces ought to be conditional on the government’s commitment to its new constitution. Thousands of Iraqi and American lives were sacrificed in ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein. A slide back to dictatorship, when much of the region is striving for democracy, would render their sacrifices meaningless.