End of the road for Iraq’s leader? (JERUSALEM POST) By THE MEDIA LINE 06/07/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
When news surfaced at the end of last week that a majority of Iraq’s
lawmakers had signed a letter demanding a no-confidence vote against
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, it looked like the days of the
embattled leader were numbered.
A day later the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr joined the
ranks of Maliki’s opponents, which include Sunni and Kurdish parties
as well as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “We say, complete your
[good work] and announce your resignation, for the sake of the
people ... and for the sake of partners," Sadr said in a statement.
That leaves Maliki with a motley assortment of backers: his own State
of Law coalition, which commands less than a third of the seats in
parliament; Tehran; and Washington. Yet, followers of Iraq’s murky
and ever-shifting politics say, Maliki isn’t a goner yet.
“The combination of groups advocating the no confidence vote is a
very big concern for him, indeed, although there are questions
whether they would go through with it,” Gareth Stansfield, an Iraq
expert at Britain’s University of Exeter, told The Media Line. “We’re
looking at very interesting and tense times for him.”
Stability in Iraq is critical at a time when other parts of the
Middle East and North Africa are gripped by Arab Spring turmoil and
the West is locked in controversy with Iran over the latter’s nuclear
ambitions. Growing Iraqi oil exports are playing an important role as
a substitute for Iranian crude as Western-led sanctions go into
For now, however, the power struggle between Maliki and his opponents
has brought the Iraqi government to a standstill. Parliament has
passed no important legislation, except for the state budget.
Meanwhile, sectarian tensions are flaring up, with at least 25 people
killed in a bombing apparently linked to a Sunni-Shiite dispute over
control of a religious shrine in Samarra.
Maliki’s opponents accuse of him of failing to share power under the
terms of the according that forms the basis of his coalition. He has
chased Sunni politicians, including the country´s highest-ranking
Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi, who were once his
allies from office.
Yet, concern that Iraq could unravel has created a rare confluence of
interests between Washington and Tehran, both of whom look at Maliki
as the only one who can hold the country together. Analysts say the
domestic opposition to the prime minister isn’t quite ready to oust
him either, even if they are employing threats of a no-confidence
vote to press their case.
Reidar Visser, an Iraqi specialist at the Norwegian Institute of
International Affairs, noted that the letter calling for a no-
confidence vote, for instance, has no legal standing, even though the
prime minister himself took the trouble to call for an investigation
into whether the signatures were forged or obtained by coercion. No
one has seen the letter, but local media said it contains the
signatures of at least 164 of 325 lawmakers. Others say it has 176
and others as many as 200.
“The signatures to Talabani are no more binding than an opinion poll.
Talabani may listen to them if he likes to, or he may reject them and
ask them to work via a 65-member petition instead,” Visser said in a
posting on his Iraq and Gulf Analysis blog. The 65-member petitions
refers to a rule that allows as few as 65 lawmakers to ask the
speaker of parliament for a non confidence vote without the
intervention of the president.
Sadr’s call for Maliki to step down may also be a tactical measure
rather than a real change-of-heart, some analysts say. He was a late-
comer in joining Maliki’s coalition and did so only under pressure
from Tehran. He moved back into the Maliki camp in recent weeks, but
his movement is close to Iran and he has not quit the prime
minister’s coalition where his 40 followers in parliament make him a
An indication about how strongly Tehran backs Maliki, hours before Al-
Sadr issued his statement, Ayatollah Kazim Al-Haeri, a spiritual
mentor of his based in Iran, published a religious edict declaring it
forbidden to vote for secular politicians -- an apparent reference to
Maliki´s opponents and widely understood as providing indirect
backing for the prime minister.
Iraq’s growing oil exports may be hurting Iran as it battles Western
sanctions, but Tehran has good reason to look the other way. Al-
Maliki is a Shiite, as is the Iranian regime and Iran is having
trouble with its other important regional ally, Syria. It cannot
afford to lose Iraq, too.
Tehran helped engineer the coalition deal eighteen months ago that
brought Maliki to a second term as prime minister. In April, Maliki
was welcomed in Tehran and last month it enhanced the prime
minister’s and Iraq’s prestige by holding a round of nuclear talks
with world powers in Baghdad.
Iraqi President Talabani, another figure who holds Maliki’s fate in
his hands, doesn’t seem anxious to act either. An Iraqi Kurd with
close ties to Iran and the US, he has held talks with anti-Maliki
factions but has declined to allow the no confidence vote in
parliament, as he is entitled to do under the constitution.
Stansfield of Exeter University said Maliki will probably have to
meet some of his opponents’ demands, especially those coming from the
Kurds. But, in the end, the prime minister will keep office for lack
of an alternative and because he remains popular with much of the
Iraqi public. “He is the least worst candidate for everyone,”
Stansfield said. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 06/07/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY