Iraqis go to the polls to elect a new parliament today in the midst of an ever-escalating crisis. The world has become so accustomed to impending or actual disaster in Iraq that it pays little attention to news of the daily slaughter by bombs and assassinations. It has come to seem like a normal part of the political landscape.
But in the past six months Iraq’s permanent crisis has become significantly worse. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), a group that has the unique distinction of being criticised by al-Qa’ida leaders for its excessive violence, recently paraded in Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad. The notorious prison has had to be evacuated in case it is overrun. Fallujah, 40 miles west of the capital, which US Marines battled to capture in 2004, is back under jihadi control. They have captured the nearby Fallujah dam on the Euphrates and have been flooding districts downstream.
With news of disastrous setbacks on the battlefield coming every few days, it might be imagined that the eight-year rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might be ended by this election.
Unfortunately, this is by no means certain, nor even likely, because Mr Maliki is presenting himself to the Shia majority as the defender of their community. As Isis and anti-government forces take increasing control of Sunni provinces and carry out more bombings throughout the country, the Shia feel increasingly frightened. Though the threat to them is partly of Mr Maliki’s own making, they may rally to him as the leader who will preserve them.
It would be a pity if they do. Mr Maliki may win the election or stay in office, but more and more of Iraq will be outside his control as the country disintegrates.