Embattled Iraqi PM Mailki holding on to
power for now
June 12, 2012
BAGHDAD, — Iraq's embattled prime
minister has fought off an attempt to push him out
of office, aided by divisions among his opponents
and Iranian intervention on his behalf.
Nouri al-Maliki's tactical victory averts a
potentially destabilizing contest to replace him, at
least for the time being, but perpetuates the
sectarian-based deadlock that has paralyzed the
country for years.
In the latest setback for those trying to unseat
Maliki, the country's president said Sunday he would
not ratify a petition for a no-confidence vote
because it lacked the needed number of signatures.
An Iraqi lawmaker who supports the prime minister
says Iran is helping him by trying to buy time.
Tehran is pushing for a two-month grace period
during which Maliki, who has close ties with the
Islamic Republic, would ostensibly try to appease
coalition partners who accuse him of monopolizing
At the root of the standoff is the unresolved power
struggle between Iraq's three main groups - the
majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds -
following the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the
U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Elections in March 2010 were inconclusive. Maliki
was able to form a national unity government but its
component parties do not trust and in some cases
detest each other.
The continued impasse has raised the possibility of
renewed sectarian violence and hampered plans for
rebuilding the country ravaged by a decade of
Six months after the departure of the last U.S.
forces, hopes seem to be fading that oil-rich Iraq
can quickly transform into a functioning democracy.
"It's a sensitive and tense situation and anything
could go wrong," analyst Joost Hiltermann of the
International Crisis Group said of the ongoing
Maliki, a Shiite, is under fire for breaking
promises to share power with his partners in a unity
government that includes the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya
bloc, Kurdish parties and loyalists of radical
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sunnis who believe he is targeting their leaders
with politically motivated prosecutions and Kurds
who think he is hostile to their northern autonomy
have their own reason to dislike the prime minister.
Maliki's erstwhile partners have been pushing to
unseat him with a no-confidence vote in the
325-member parliament, but appear to be struggling
to muster the required 164 votes.
Last week, they said they sent a petition for a
no-confidence vote with 176 signatures of lawmakers
to President Jalal Talabani - a Kurd with ties to
Iran who is apparently reluctant to see Maliki
replaced. Talabani said the petition only had 160
valid signatures Sunday,www.ekurd.net
falling short by four. He said 13 lawmakers told him
they were withdrawing or suspending their
The rebels in Maliki's coalition can also force a
no-confidence vote without Talabani's help, but it's
a longer, more cumbersome process.
After Talabani's ruling, Maliki called for more
talks to resolve the coalition crisis.
Maliki's main foreign backer, Iran, is also trying
to keep him in power, according to several Shiite
politicians who spoke on condition of anonymity
because of the sensitive nature of those efforts.
Maliki is a key guarantor of Tehran's influence in
Iraq and forged close ties with Iran's leaders
during two decades in exile there in the Saddam era.
The push to unseat Maliki hinges on Sadr, whose
loyalists have 40 seats in parliament. The mercurial
young cleric has a long history of conflict with
Maliki, but is also particularly vulnerable to
Sadr bolted the Shiite political camp several weeks
ago to side with Iraqiya and the Kurds. Shortly
after that, he was summoned to Tehran, where he was
asked to give Maliki two more months to work out his
coalition problems, according to Shiite lawmaker
Humam al-Hamoudi, a Maliki supporter.
To add to the pressure, Sadr's Iranian-based
spiritual leader issued a religious edict that would
rule out having Sadr side with Sunnis and Kurds.
Sadr's response to the pressure remains unclear.
Hamoudi said he expects Sadr will eventually return
to the Shiite fold, for fear of losing support among
Before departing for Tehran, Sadr tried to unify the
ranks, asking senior members of his movement and the
Mahdi Army militia to sign a loyalty oath to him
with a fingerprint dipped in blood, said a senior
militia commander, Abu Ali Rubai.
Meanwhile, the push against Maliki is likely to
The coalition rebels said in a statement they would
"continue to mobilize lawmakers," while Hamoudi
suggested that a lack of trust will make it hard to
solve the coalition's problems.
"The problem is that Maliki has signed so many
signatures before, but the level of commitment will
only be seen in the future," Hamoudi said, hinting
at broken pledges of the past.
In the original coalition deal, reached after nine
months of political wrangling following the 2010
election, Maliki made sweeping concessions in a bid
to form a government. "What he signed up to was very
theoretical and not achievable," said Reidar Visser,
a Norway-based analyst who writes for the blog
Among other things, Maliki promised to set up a body
that would have final say on legislation and be
headed by the leader of Iraqiya, but later reneged.
Maliki also failed to appoint defense and interior
ministers, jobs he kept for himself as he tightened
control over the security forces.
The deadlock has meant parliament is not passing
important bills - key among them those that regulate
The uncertainty has fed a number of Iraq's ongoing
crises, such as the conflict between the autonomous
Kurdistan region in the north and the central
government in Baghdad over the oil rights.
Hiltermann said Iraq's lack of effective government
has been cushioned by its oil riches - an income
tens of billions of dollars a year.
He said he expects Iraq to muddle through as long as
oil keeps flowing. "It's not a good situation for
Iraq," he said. "Just more of the same."
By Karin Laub, Associated Press
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