Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, may be wondering how he got into his current predicament. From taking on the premiership in 2006, he benefited from the US actions that ended the civil war of 2006-7, he faced down Iranian-backed Shia militias in Basra, and he lost an election in 2010 yet still managed to stay in power. He has also out-manoeuvred his opponents, boosted his popularity among the electorate and strengthened his grip on the institutions of the state.
Yet he now seems to be a leader in shock, paralyzed by the rise of the jihadist forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), now renamed simply the Islamic State. He also seems powerless to prevent his one-time Kurdish allies from breaking away from Iraq. Yet the United States and Britain seem fixated on the preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity, at a time when Iraq’s societal cohesion appears to have been shattered beyond repair.