Maliki's Opponents Back Down In Face of Pressure From Iran

Article Summary
Those who thought that PM Nouri al-Maliki was on his way to losing a no-confidence vote by opposition leaders have been disappointed, writes Sarkis Naoum. Several reasons explain the foiling of this plot, including divides between opposition figures, Shiite loyalty to Maliki and, most importantly, Iran’s disapproval.

Many Iraqis and Arabs thought that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was on the verge of being removed from power.  Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi List leader Ayad Allawi and Mahdi Army leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr  had agreed to withdraw confidence from him in the House of Representatives after having collected the signatures of more than 164 MPs, the constitutional number needed to overthrow the government and its president.

However, those who thought Maliki would be subject to a no-confidence vote were disappointed, even though some leaders continue to push for such an outcome.

Is this disappointment irreversible? In other words, have those seeking to oust Maliki failed, and have they helped him to stabilize his position after being deemed shaky by the entirety of the Iraqi people — for reasons beyond his failure to address concerns like water, electricity, the implementation of vital projects, corruption and unemployment?

Any Iraqi closely following the developments in Iraq, as well as anybody who may be in any way invested in the outcome of what happens there, would respond “yes” to those questions. In the view of these Iraqis, disappointment is indeed irreversible, at least for now and the foreseeable future. This does not mean, however, that Maliki’s rule will be "eternal," as was the case with that of Saddam Hussein, although many are finding similarities between the two. It means that the current internal and external political conditions are not favorable for another attempt to vote him out, unless of course further developments changed the conditions that enable him to stay in power, and his local and regional protectors were convinced of giving up on him.

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However, the most important question arising now is: Who are the authorities that have foiled the efforts to discredit Maliki, and why have they insisted on doing so? Several reasons emerge:

  1. The difference in the attitudes adopted by the President of the Republic of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani. The former sponsored excluding Maliki, setting frameworks and conditions for that process. Foremost among these steps was the collection of the required number of MP signatures to withdraw confidence through an official petition. But at the same time, Talabani had other concerns in mind: even though he accepts Barzani as president in Iraqi Kurdistan, he does not approve of his leadership in Iraq. For Barzani to take on a leadership role in the rest of Iraq is unacceptable, and it sets the stage for a new civil war. It also does not mean that Talabani sees Barzani as the sole leader of the Kurds.
  2. The majority of Iraqi Shiites reject the dismissal of their country's prime minister, or rather the actual head of power, a Shiite from a Kurdish-Sunni coalition. They would only accept his ouster from power if he lost a future general election or if he voluntarily stepped down.
  3. Those seeking to dismiss Maliki did not consult with Najaf (the center of Shi’ism in Iraq) and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in particular, regardless of the fact that he, like other marjas (justices of Sharia law), avoids dealing with daily political issues. However, taking his opinion on a matter of interest for the country in general and the Shiites in particular was necessary because he knows full well Maliki's failures and fiascoes.
  4. The Islamic Republic of Iran's disapproval of the removal of Maliki, not only because it is now his only protector, but because it despises that anyone in Iraq, be they Shiite, Sunni or Kurdish, would challenge its will. Moreover, it knows that some of the groups opposing Maliki oppose it as well and are linked to regional parties which are publicly fighting it in and outside Iraq, especially in Syria. Finally, they know that the Shiites of Iraq will always follow its will because Iran protected them after Arabs gave up on them, and because they acted based on ideological perspectives regarding the Iraqi issue.
  5. The US does not want chaos that could lead to a new civil war in Iraq. This is what President Obama told Barzani during a meeting between the two a few months ago in Washington.

In the end, Iraqis say, it is unfortunate that Muqtada al-Sadr, who was Barzani's partner in leading the campaign to oust Maliki, has now backed down and retreated to Iran, despite his widespread popularity in Iraq. The answer to this question will remain unknown until new developments enter the equation.

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Found in: ayatollah ali al-sistani, nouri al-maliki, massoud barzani
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