Iraq in Political Crisis Following U.S. Withdrawal
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki immediately tried to consolidate his power.
December 28, 2011 - 12:00 am
While Allawi and his bloc indicated at the start of this month that they wanted a reconciliation process with Maliki and his followers, they quickly switched to a political offensive against the premier. Saleh Mutlaq, Sunni deputy premier, accused Maliki of being the most dictatorial ruler in Iraq’s history in an interview with CNN. Allawi’s bloc has also boycotted the parliament and worked with the Sadrists — who form a key part of Maliki’s ruling coalition — to push for a general amnesty law in the parliament, which is opposed by Maliki.
The role of the Sadrists is important to examine, because it illustrates how personal power struggles are as much an issue in Iraqi politics as the question of sectarian affiliation. While Sadrists have not hesitated to accuse some members of al-Iraqiya and other Sunni politicians of being Ba’athists, it is not always the case that they simply side with Maliki and his followers.
In the aftermath of the 2010 elections, the Sadrists entertained the idea of forming a coalition with al-Iraqiya. Even after joining State of Law’s coalition, the Sadrists refused to endorse Maliki for a second term as prime minister without incorporating al-Iraqiya into the government in some way. They feared the possibility of a reignited Sunni insurgency in light of the fact that their own militia, the Mahdi Army, had been forced to disband in 2008 following Maliki’s “Operation Charge of the Knights” against the Mahdi Army in Basra.
In a similar vein, the Sadrists offered to act as mediators between al-Iraqiya and State of Law at the start of this month, and have not joined Maliki in his attack on Hashemi, lamenting the fact that this fallout has emerged immediately after the American withdrawal.
In short, it is not strictly accurate to characterize the present crisis as a political conflict between the Shi’a and Sunni Arabs. It should rather be seen in the context of Maliki’s efforts to concentrate as much power in his hands as possible. Indeed, it is telling that he has just gone back on his promise not to run for a third term as prime minister, a pledge he made in response to protests in the country that reached their zenith in February of this year.
If the allegations against Hashemi fail, Maliki will have made a big political mistake, for Hashemi has been one of the Sunni Arab members of the parliament willing to compromise with the government. A full-blown, renewed Shi’a-Sunni civil war is a remote prospect, but there is a significant threat to stability from potential violence between political factions.