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Maliki goes on offense as elections approach

With Iraq’s parliamentary elections only days away, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused his adversaries of failing to take responsibility for their role in the current crises.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (2nd R) visits a concrete plant for the Basmaya residential project in Baghdad April 16, 2014.   REUTERS/Ahmed Saad (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS REAL ESTATE) - RTR3LHYV

In an interview with the Lebanese Al-Manar TV channel on April 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki challenged his adversaries, who have been accusing him of becoming a dictator and monopolizing authority, to prove that he has violated the constitution, if even once. Maliki said that he has never overstepped the constitution or law in any of his policies or powers, and that his adversaries want to blame him for the failure of the partnership government, which they themselves are part of. Maliki reiterated his promise that the next stage will not witness a return to a partnership government including all parties. The only solution is a majority government whose ministers are appointed by Maliki, and which he leads.

The Maliki-led State of Law Coalition includes 12 parties and groups, including the Islamic Dawa Party, led by Maliki himself, the Badr Organization, the Independent Bloc, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, in addition to other smaller parties.

The coalition is participating in the elections in all cities with a Shiite majority and focusing its electoral campaign on the Shiite audience. Maliki started his electoral rounds with a visit to Basra in southern Iraq on April 11, and he later visited all Shiite cities.

During these rounds, Maliki sought to promote his coalition by sponsoring or launching new service projects such as the inauguration of a big hospital in Najaf. He also inspected the site of the Besmaya Housing Project in Baghdad, which is one of the largest housing projects in the capital and aims at building more than 100,000 housing units.

In the speech he gave during his visit to the site, Maliki vowed to begin implementing the plan to build 1 million new housing units in the country to solve the housing crisis. He also emphasized that the slackening in developing infrastructure and services stems from the lack of cooperation by other political forces and from the parliament’s attempt to hamper any achievements that are in the interest of the government and prime minister.

In his visits, Maliki also distributed many lots of land to those who do not have homes. His opponents considered this an exploitation of his governmental position to win the support of voters.

Regarding the elections in mixed areas with significant Shiite minorities, Maliki’s party allied with other Shiite groups in multiparty alliances.

In Diyala, the Fadila Party and the Sadiqoun Bloc, which represents the paramilitary Ahl al-Haq Movement, joined the State of Law Coaltion. In Kirkuk, Maliki’s party joined the gathering called Turkman Kirkuk Coalition, which also includes the Fadila Party, the Sadiqoun Bloc and the National Reform Movement led by former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. In Saladin, Maliki’s coalition joined the Islamic Supreme Council, the Independent Bloc, the Badr Organization, the Fadila Party, the Sadiqoun Bloc and the National Reform Movement in a Shiite alliance that excludes Sadrists and carries the name of the National Saladin Alliance. 

Maliki’s current alliances emphasized its Shiite character, compared to the way things were in 2010, and the closeness of Maliki to the extreme religious-right Shiite forces such as the Fadila Party, and to those closest to Iran such as the Badr Organization and Ahl al-Haq Movement.

This focus on the Shiite constituency might be understandable. All the main forces preferred to consolidate their sectarian electoral constituencies because they realized that larger blocs will be formed after the elections. However, it is still unclear whether Maliki’s alliance with the Islamic Supreme Council and most other Shiite forces in Saladin province indicates that a similar national alliance will be formed after the elections.

There are also small groups that are pro-Maliki but entered the electoral race on separate lists to increase their chances of gaining votes, which would be difficult to obtain by being part of the State of Law Coalition. These groups include the Iraqi Loyalty Coalition led by Sami al-Askari, Maliki's close associate, the Movement for a Fair State — both of which are running in the elections in Baghdad and cities with a Shiite majority — and the Rule of Law Youth Movement, which is running in Baghdad. 

Although Ali al-Adeeb, a senior member of the Dawa Party who is seen as a potential alternative to Maliki, is heading the State of Law Coalition list in Karbala, he is also leading a separate group called the Gathering of Comprehensive Revival. This gathering also includes candidates in Baghdad and cities with a Shiite majority. This step can be interpreted as part of an electoral tactic aimed at acquiring any votes that may not go directly to the State of Law Coalition. It also infers internal tension resulting from the rivalry between Maliki and Adeeb, which is one of the reasons that seem to have pushed Maliki to rely more on his relatives and place the husbands of his two daughters on the State of Law Coalition list in Karbala, which is headed by Adeeb.

This may be an early omen of a conflict between the partisans currently linked to the Dawa Party and the family wing in the prime minister's office, whose influence has grown in recent years, as the prime minister’s opponents say.

Besides those alliances, the majority government project advocated by Maliki will seemingly be based on an alliance with the Sunni forces, most notably the list led by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, in addition to new powers such as the Iraq Coalition led by businessman Fadhil al-Dabas, who is believed to have close ties with the government

However, Maliki needs to win more seats than the 89 seats he got in the previous elections for these alliances to be able to guarantee the 165 seats that are required to form a majority.

In the interview with Al-Manar, Maliki said that “if the elections are conducted with integrity,” then he is confident his coalition would score the biggest victory, achieving far more votes than the bloc ranking second.

The State of Law Coalition is most likely seeking to secure more than 100 seats to prevent any potential alliance between Muqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim from forming a larger coalition than his, and thus confirm that he represents the vast majority of Shiites.

Therefore, the coalition’s rhetoric has attempted to show that competing Shiite forces have not taken a sufficiently firm position against the terrorism targeting Shiite civilians.

The prime minister's office has even issued a statement on April 8 condemning the remarks of Sadrist leader Bahaa al-Araji, who said that members of the Iraqi army lack a doctrine, which Maliki deemed as an insult to the armed forces that are fighting terrorism. 

In a speech he made in Baghdad to start the coalition’s campaign on April 2, Maliki pointed out the danger of the role played by some politicians who are providing a cover for terrorism through their positions that lack support for the army and the government.

By attempting to portray his rivals as disruptive of the government and indifferent to — if not collaborative with — terrorism, Maliki is seeking to gain greater Shiite support to turn his coalition into the undisputed Shiite bloc that others cannot bypass or marginalize.

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