Anthony Shadid: "As the U.S. completes its drawdown of military forces in Iraq, the country is solidifying its own sectarian and ethnic divisions — the culmination of a process that began with the invasion in 2003. Not that these divisions are new in Iraq. They simmered even as the country was created after World War I and assumed stark form under Saddam Hussein. He ruled by empowering members of his own Sunni tribe; he waged a genocidal war against Iraq’s Kurds in the north and crushed an uprising among the Shiite majority in the south. But after deposing Hussein and the Baath Party, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority constructed something unprecedented: a political system that ignored class, nationalist and other dynamics in favor of a simple calculus of Sunni, Shiite and Kurd.
Whether that system will become permanent was tested last year. The national parliamentary elections in 2010 were supposed to give Iraqis a solid basis on which to retake control of their country. The leading parliamentary lists were headed by two familiar names: Ayad Allawi and Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Allawi was a secular Shiite from an elite family, a burly man, born in 1945, who was active in Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party until he fell out with the leader and went abroad in 1971. Based in London, Allawi devoted himself to shadowy exile politics, leading a group called Iraqi National Accord and cultivating ties with the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, all aimed at the eventual overthrow of Hussein. Nuri al-Maliki was a very different person: a Shiite believer from relatively humble origins, five years younger than Allawi, whose political career depended on advancing Shiite interests. He fled Iraq in the late 1970s after being sentenced to death. In exile, he toiled with the Shiite Dawa Party, an Islamist group that he joined as a college student in 1970 and that Hussein outlawed. Maliki built relationships with Syria and Iran. He was chosen as prime minister in 2006 on the assumption that he would be a weak and malleable leader, but he proved to be both an able schemer and ruthless when he needed to be, including in the use of military force. After four years in office, he was by far Iraq’s most powerful politician. In the 2010 elections, Maliki led, in essence, the Shiite list, aimed at advancing the interests of the Shiite majority, while Allawi led a more diverse set of parties and politicians with a broad commitment to a secular future for Iraq."