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President Obama's long-awaited response to crisis in Iraq

The US administration has demonstrated serious concern for Iraq's national unity.
An election campaign poster of Iraq's former prime minister Ayad Allawi is pictured in Baghdad April 3, 2014. Iraq's parliamentary election is scheduled for later this month. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR3JUUI

President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy up to 300 military advisers — as opposed to the anticipated 100 — indicates a high level of concern about the sectarian divide between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, further deepened by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's lack of serious commitment to an authentic political partnership with Sunnis and Kurds.

This was a surreptitious indictment, indirectly recommending a leadership in Iraq that can bring about reconciliation by drawing Sunnis into the political system. Obama hinted that discrimination has isolated the broad Sunni constituency to remove any temptation to be permissive of a role for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Here, the implication is that Iraq's newly elected parliament needs to bring forth a government that can transform the ethnic and sectarian divide into a unity of diversity, meaning somebody other than the current prime minister.

It follows that the Sunnis and Kurds, along with the Shiite majority, must select a Shiite statesman who can elicit trust and respond to the legitimate demands of all communities, and expedite the process of a national reconciliation.

In an earlier blog, I suggested a leader of Ayad Allawi stature, a proven moderate Shiite leader, but he is not the only one.

Obama's emphasis on the urgent resolution of the political and sectarian divide was much more than a hint, but definitely not a demand.

It is very clear that deploying military advisers to help train the army to preserve national unity would be a decisive instrument to prevent terrorism.

Obama signaled hopefully that Iran would help enhance the prospects of reconciliation to help avoid sectarian conflict in Iraq and the region.

His emphasis on the priority of political strategy to bring national unity in Iraq suggests that it could be a significant contribution to diffuse sectarian tensions. It is evident that this emphasis on Iraq’s national unity underlines the anxiety of the region as a whole: If Iraq remains in a situation of dangerous sectarian divide, it might trigger regional destabilization.

It will be important during the next few days to discern the responses of the political forces, which might include intransigence on the part of Maliki, bringing to the forefront a moderate and significant leader of the Shiites to act as an architect of Iraqi unity, which has eluded this Arab country for many years.

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