Wednesday, January 09, 2008
A new movement to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is gathering force in Baghdad. And although the United States is counseling against this change of government, a senior U.S. official in the Iraqi capital says it's a moment of "breakthrough or breakdown" for Maliki's regime.
The new push against Maliki comes from Kurdish leaders, who, U.S. and Iraqi sources told me, sent him an ultimatum in late December. "The letter was clear in saying we are concerned about the direction of policies in Baghdad," said a senior Kurdish official. He described the Dec. 21 letter as "a sincere effort from the Kurdish parties to help the government reform -- or else."
Ah yes, the Kurds are interested in "reform." Nothing to do with the recent Turkish military incursions, or the foot-dragging on the Kirkuk referendum. These are noble impulses, I am sure, as the Kurds have been consistently preoccupied with the well-being of all Iraqis. Why, just look at the name being floated for the role of redeemer of the sectarian tendencies of the Maliki government:
The anti-Maliki forces would like to replace him with Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents and a leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Mahdi's supporters think they can muster the 138 votes needed for a no-confidence vote in parliament, by combining 53 votes from the Kurdish parties with 55 from Sunni groups and 30 from Hakim's Islamic Council. Add another 40 votes from supporters of former prime ministers Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jafari, and you're close to the two-thirds majority needed to form a new government.
Apparently, the way to break the sectarian mindset of the Maliki government is to opt for a candidate from another religious Shiite party - with close ties to both Iran and Maliki's religious Dawa party. Hey, but at least ISCI's Mahdi has the support of former Dawa prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who himself governed in such an unacceptably sectarian manner that Maliki was brought in to rectify the situation. Back in August I explained the futility of such exercises:
The larger point being that Maliki - like Jaafari - is not an aberration or an outlier. He is not a loose cannon, rogue element or unorthodox figure. Nuri al-Maliki is a predictable, unremarkable product of the sectarian, communal mindset that dominates Iraqi political life. He is not acting against the wishes of his colleagues, but in furtherance of them. [...]
The bottom line is that If you call on an Iraqi parliament comprised of the same elements to replace Maliki, it is unlikely that the replacement prime minister will be any less "sectarian" or more unifying. If a prime minister attempted to rule in such a manner, he would be promptly sacked. By his very electors.
Speaking of which, the knives have already been brandished, poised to carve up the spoils - but purely in the interest of a more unified Iraq, and government efficiency, I assure you:
The rumor mill in Baghdad is already floating the names of officials who would take cabinet posts in a new government. The Kurds are said to want key security portfolios, perhaps including control over intelligence through the Ministry of National Security. Various candidates have been proposed to take over the Energy Ministry -- and halt what is said to be massive smuggling of oil from the southern Iraqi pipeline across the border to Iran.
That is part of why I don't put much stock in these rumors. At some point, eventually, something might happen. But betting against the latest fad has been a consistently winning proposition, such that I can more than withstand the blow if one of these schemes pans out someday. Until then, nothing to see here, move along.
The biggest obstacle to removing Maliki is the Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is said to be frustrated with Maliki's poor performance but wary of dividing the Shiite alliance. "Najaf [Sistani's headquarters] is unhappy," said one top Iraqi leader. But the senior U.S. official said he was "certain" that Sistani had not yet blessed any change of government.