Commentary

Maliki and the Opposition

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Iraq’s governance drama has proved remarkably persistent. Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, continues to come under attack for what his opponents see as too cozy a relationship with Iran, as well as his failure to follow through on the Irbil agreement (which enabled the formation of the current government). While Maliki’s opponents do not seem to have the necessary votes to force out the current government, efforts are under way to garner sufficient support at different levels of the Iraqi political spectrum.

As Aswat Al-Iraq reports, the efforts to date have had little to show in terms of the ability of the opposition to force of vote of no-confidence for the Maliki government: “Premier Nouri al-Maliki extended thanks to President Jalal Talabani, describing him as ‘protector of the constitution.’ In a statement issued by his office, copy received by Aswat al-Iraq, he called all differing components to discuss their differences declared by previous meetings. ‘Last weeks' differences proved that the only solution is to resort to the constitution, not finding new venues.’ Late Yesterday night, a presidential statement said that there was no enough votes to withdraw confidence from Maliki's government.”

However, failure to do so has not dampened the desire of some, like the leader of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, who, according to the Kurdish site AK News, “is persistent on removing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from the PM position....Barzani said in his update that there are 170 signatures from Iraqi MPs to withdraw confidence form al-Maliki....Barzani’s statement comes after the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani said he had received a letter from parliamentarians who bid for the removal of al-Maliki, but that the 160 signatures on the letter were not adequate for a vote of no confidence against Maliki. For a vote of no confidence, the 163 MPs of the 325-seat parliament need to sign on the petition.”

It is in part due to the difficulty of the task and a divided opposition that Joel Wing believes “The talk of a no confidence vote…remains just talk…. The call to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to gain momentum in April 2012 as more parties were joining the chorus for him to step down....Sadr’s attendance seemed like a game changer, because he had been one of the prime minister’s main supporters....The major problem for Maliki’s opponents has been that they are not united.... [And] Iran has also come to the aid of the prime minister. Several Iranian officials have visited Baghdad and Irbil recently. Allegedly, they asked the Kurds to give Maliki another chance, and told the premier to compromise with them. Maliki also travelled to Iran and met with Sadr there.”

For some, Maliki’s relationship with Iran has been at the heart of the effort to unseat him. A report filed by Aswat Al-Iraq notes “Al-Iraqia has reiterated accusations against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of counting on what it described as ‘the Iranian factor’ in the current political standoff in Iraq, according to an official statement.... ‘The premier tries to pressure lawmakers to remain in power,’ the statement quoted Spokesperson of the bloc Haiddar al-Mulla, as saying, adding that seven lawmakers from al-Iraqiya were among the delegation who met al-Maliki on Thursday, including two who signed on the request to unseat him, and changed their minds due to his pressures.”

For Al Hayat’s Mostafa Zein, the attempt to undermine the al-Maliki government is a clear effort at diminishing the role of Iran in the country and the region: “Those in Iraq opposed to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, and with them the regimes of neighboring countries, are waging a difficult battle to impeach him, transform Iraq’s political orientation and remove the link tying Iran to Syria — in addition to diminishing Iran’s influence in its neighborhood in the Gulf....Transforming Iraqi policy from an alliance with Iran to opposition to it, or to neutrality, requires more than drawing in Sadr against Maliki, and more than convincing Talabani to stand alongside those who oppose him. Indeed, even if this were to happen, and if Maliki’s opponents manage to impeach him, domestic alliances and balances will still prevent Baghdad from adopting a policy independent from its neighborhood.”

The current political battle takes place against a deteriorating security atmosphere in the country and region, made even more complicated by local regional governments working to carve out a sphere of independent authority. In the case of Kurdish-run northern Iraq, such independent policy almost always has to do with its ability to drill and sell oil regardless of the central government’s opinion.

Azzaman’s Shaymaa Adel claims one such complication arouse this past week: “Reports that Kurds were trying to drill for oil in villages and districts to the north and north-east of the city of Mosul have drawn condemnation from Baghdad…. But local press reports say that the Kurds have allegedly discovered massive reserves in the plain where a string villages are inhabited mainly by Christians, Yazidis and other minorities....The oil-rich areas of Mosul fall within the category of ‘disputed territory’ — a term which means their administration shall be decided in light of a referendum. But the Kurds have sent in their militias (peshmerga) and security organs and are practically in full control of these areas in violation of Iraqi constitution.”

And yet there are signs of what Ahmed Younis and his colleagues call “Arab-Kurdish rapprochement in northern Iraq…. Residents of Iraq’s volatile Nineveh province say they are cautiously optimistic that their lives will get better because Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians have decided to work with rather than against one another....Despite [recent] frictions, signs emerged last month that relations between the two groups might be improving. In a step aimed at reducing tension, provincial governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab, moved to give Kurdish council members a greater say.”


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