LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Iraq is looking more and more like a country being divided into three parts. Hard-core Sunni militants have taken much of the west. Well-organized Kurdish soldiers have grabbed the north. And everywhere else, Shiites are mustering sectarian militia. Thousands of Iraqis have been killed in just the last month. NPR's Alice Fordham reports there are a lot of ideas for helping the Iraqis, but the country's newly elected politicians are not exactly rushing to address the situation.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: There are a lot of military solutions proposed to Iraq's problems. The Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani encouraged hoards of young men to volunteer and battle Sunni insurgents. Russia sent jets. Iran and the United States dispatched military advisers to bolster the feeble Iraqi Army. Residents insist someone is conducting drone strikes over the northern city of Mosul. No nations admitted to that. But some people think all this military activity will achieve nothing without reconciliation between Iraqis. International Crisis Group analyst, Peter Harling.
PETER HARLING: I think all this notion of airstrikes and drones and over the horizon projection of force never made any sense. I mean, it's simply a way of putting societies at distance when the problem is precisely how to reconnect with these societies and drain the support that ISIS enjoys now in Iraq.
FORDHAM: It's that popular support for ISIS, as the Sunni extremist group was known until it changed its name to the Islamic State, that makes it so hard to put Iraq back together again. But where does that support come from? Take a listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
FORDHAM: That's a YouTube video of one of hundreds of protests that started more than 18 months ago in parts of Iraq where the Sunni minority lives. They were angry at what they called marginalization by the Shiite-led government - unfair detention, torture and death at the hands of the security forces. This anger built up and eventually meant some people were amenable when Sunni militants took over and declared Islamic law. The analyst Harling reckons the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is widely seen as the driver of this institutionalized sectarianism. So it's not until Maliki steps down that the government can really fight this insurgency.
HARLING: What exists of ISIS legitimacy depends on Maliki's course of action. They feed on each other. And they're part, very much, of the same system. They don't really represent alternatives. What you have to break with, I think, is the cycle, this dynamic both sides partake in.
FORDHAM: Iraq now seems to have an opportunity to do just that. Following elections in April, the various political factions still need to name a president, speaker and prime minister. This week, parliament is set to hold its second session since those elections. The international community, the clergy, ordinary Iraqis have called on the lawmakers to appoint those three key posts and start governing including reaching out to the Sunni minority. But after a first session last week which ended in chaos and arguments, politicians didn't seem hopeful of a quick resolution. Ali Adeeb is from the Shiite coalition that will likely appoint the prime minister.
ALI ADEEB: (Through translator) So far, they still have several candidates for the prime minister post. And this issue has now been reserved within the coalition itself yet.
FORDHAM: I ask him when he thinks they might have chosen someone.
ADEEB: (Through translator) Inshallah. I think that a decision will be reached soon. It won't take very long.
FORDHAM: Meantime, the incumbent insists he's going nowhere. Nouri al Maliki says he'll stay as a soldier to fight the threats to his country. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Baghdad.
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