In a column in today's Wall Street Journal, Qubad Talibani seems to argue that it's not over yet - that Iraq can be saved, but only if "those who still believe in Iraq . . . realize that Iraq is unable to fix itself alone." Success will require, among other things, "increased international security, political and humanitarian support" from "the U.S. and its coalition partners."
Talibani is the the deputy prime minster of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the fact that he's making the argument in a major U.S. newspaper requires that we do a bit of reading between the lines. The fact that his column appears in the Journal, which supported the Iraqi invasion, is significant: it means that his target audience is the shrinking remnant of Americans who may be willing to make one last effort to justify the sacrifices of the past decade in Iraq.
He suggests that the moment of Iraq's disintegration is close at hand, and that the recent efforts of Iraq’s new Prime Minister represent "a last chance to save Iraq as we know it." He seems to be saying that he's a team player, with an important qualifier: "We will gladly be part of an Iraqi state that affords everyone the constitutional rights and benefits of citizenship."
Switching out the detestable Nouri al-Maliki for Haider al-Abadi was a necessary first step if there is to be any chance that Iraq will ever be ruled by a single government again. But if the indispensable condition for reunification under the government in Baghdad is "increased support" from "The U.S. and its coalition partners," it's a non-starter. Talibani knows full well that that's not in the cards.
Thus, it's hard to read his column as anything but an effort to set the stage for Kurdistan going its own way. If, after a dozen years, thousands of soldiers' deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars expended by the U.S., Iraq is still "unable to fix itself alone," the notion that the America and its allies will make yet another effort to "fix" Iraq is sheer fantasy.
Talibani points out, correctly, that the Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers are "the only coherent and reliable force on the ground succeeding in repelling ISIS attacks and retaking territory." Moreover, Kurdistan has had to absorb 1.5 million refugees escaping the ISIS onslaught in a province whose permanent population is just 8.3 million.
The most likely outcome, and the one that's implicit in Talibani's column, is that Kurdistan will get the "increased international security, political and humanitarian support" he speaks of. The Shiite east and south will effectively become an Iranian protectorate (friction between Arabs and Persians notwithstanding), and the Sunnis in the west will be left to fend for themselves. By then, Iran will have its nuclear weapons, Jordan may have become fatally destabilized by refugees from Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State will be a festering wound in the heart of the Middle East.
It may take a year or two, but that's where things are headed. Between them, two very different American presidents shall have transformed the cradle of civilization into a nightmarish gallery of horrors, with plenty of help from the natives.