The US must push for a more inclusive government under new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi that will destroy the Islamic State's momentum and put a halt to Iran's reign of terror in the region, two leading American statesman have demanded.
Al-Abadi must no longer be Tehran's puppet to carry out Iran's 'dirty work' or exploit sectarian divisions to the political advantage of Iran's mullahs, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean wrote in the Chicago Tribune.
A strong stance by Iraq's incoming leader will also erode Tehran's leverage in nuclear negotiations with the West, they said.
They wrote: "For years, the al-Maliki government pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war by exploiting sectarian divisions for political advantage. With the departure of American troops in 2011, al-Maliki, backed increasingly by Shiite Iran, adopted policies that alienated large segments of the population.
"Those policies paved the way for the rise of extremist, terrorist Sunni groups like Islamic State and eroded whatever allegiance to the government existed among the Sunni-dominated thin green line charged with protecting the people.
"Only an assertive US stance that calls for an inclusive and independent Iraqi government can stop the cycle of sectarian bloodshed.
"With the introduction of a new prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, Washington has an opportunity to ensure that all of Iraq's diverse political voices are embodied in a democratic political order. Iraq's diversity on the ground must be reflected in its government."
The most important first step for al-Abadi is to end Iran's 'ubiquitous meddling', Mr Ridge and Mr Dean said.
They added: "Iran moved to consolidate its influence in Iraq under al-Maliki by coercing the judiciary and Shiite blocs there to support a second term for their client, even though his faction lost the election in 2010.
"Generals in Tehran then assembled al-Maliki's Cabinet, as Ali Khedery. Al-Maliki returned the favor by showing no hesitation to massacre defenseless Iranian dissidents gathered in Iraqi camps Ashraf and Liberty.
"Repeated deadly and unprovoked attacks against members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq left more than 100 dead and thousands injured, helping Tehran in its quest to eliminate a pro-US, democratic opposition group."
With the help of Iran's Quds force, al-Maliki brutally repressed popular protests across Iraq hunted down tribal leaders, made arrests and carried out executions, all with Tehran's complicity, they said.
They wrote: "That reversed the gains made in 2007, when Sunnis played the most crucial role in driving al-Qaida out of Iraq. It also demonstrated the kind of brazen sectarianism that gave rise to the Islamic State.
"The course of action now is clear: The U.S. must push for transition to a more inclusive government that would give voice to the Sunnis, tribes, moderate Shiites and other minorities.
"In adopting a firm diplomatic policy, the US will not only bolster its damaged reputation in the region, it will destroy the Islamic State's momentum by ending Sunni alienation from Iraqi politics. Likewise, in advocating for new and inclusive leadership, Iran's reign of terror in Iraq will be greatly diminished.
"Tehran will no longer have a puppet to carry out its dirty work next door. It will also lose important leverage in its nuclear negotiations with the West.
"The manner in which al-Abadi's new government deals with Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty will be a litmus test for his attitude toward Tehran.
"If he deals with the dissidents in accordance with Iraq's commitment to the United Nations, international law and their human rights, he will give strong indication that the new government is serious about charting an independent path for Iraq, one that puts national interests above sectarian divides."