Baghdad—It was December 2010, and Nouri Kamal al-Maliki sat in a faux palace, erected by Saddam Hussein, on the Feast of Sacrifice, one of the most sacred days in the Muslim Calendar. The politician, who had just secured his second term as prime minister of Iraq after an eight-month stalemate, sat in a gilded, thronelike chair, surrounded by members of his Shiite religious Dawa Party. Former enemies walked into the hall to congratulate him, and Maliki rose to embrace them. To his left was a founder of his party, the oldest surviving Dawa member, who had been tortured under Hussein and was now spending his golden years in quiet retirement near the Shiite shrine of Imam Khadim in western Baghdad. There were others like him, who basked in the pageantry like a balm for the jail, death, and humiliating exile they endured. Their grip on power, a feverish dream during...

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