Juan Cole plays his usual valuable role in sifting through the news from hell. Despite his disclaimers–and he’s entirely correct to disclaim–I found his speculation about some sort of political shakeup imminent in Baghdad to be interesting:
So of the central club, al-Hakim is now absent [taking lung cancer treatment in Iran]. And, Jalal Talabani is flying to the US to spend three weeks, allegedly in a bid to lose weight. I’m tempted to speculate that something is in the works such that someone thinks it desirable that Talabani be out of country, since the idea that Mam Jalal suddenly decided he needed to go to a fat farm in Minnesota strikes me as far-fetched. But I will control myself; speculation in the absence of information is not very useful.
This much I can confirm: there is growing pessimism among U.S. officials about the possibility of the long-sought political deal amongst Shi’ites and Sunnis and Kurds. The current feeling is that there’s no way to get the Shi’ites to relinquish any significant power. So there may be an American desire to shake things up.
On the other hand–I just love it when I have to start a paragraph so forcefully –there’s also the sense that Maliki is the most plausible alternative amongst the various Shi’ite factions. The vain hope, now six months old, that a broader coalition might be built to run Iraq amongst Kurds, acceptable Sunnis, secular Shi’ites and assorted cats and dogs is now officially dead. I’ll have more about the current state of play in my column later this week.