Iraqi PM Maliki enemies battle to vote him
out of office: Analysis
June 7, 2012
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a
meeting with tribal leaders in Mosul, 390 km (240
miles) north of Baghdad, May 29 2012. Photo:
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BAGHDAD,— Ask Iraq's Sunni, Kurdish
and even some Shi'ite leaders these days what they
think of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and the
rhetoric is likely to be shrill: Many call him a
dictator, autocrat or even a new "Saddam" who needs
to be voted from office.
For the second time since American troops left last
December, Maliki is wading through a crisis with the
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs in his government
at each other's throats in a feud that risks
spilling from politics into sectarian violence.
A wily political survivor, Maliki has so far emerged
unscathed from the unrelenting melee since the
government was formed 18 months ago. Now his foes
want to test his survival skills to the limit with
the threat of a vote of no confidence.
If this vote does come before parliament it will be
the most serious challenge in Maliki's six years in
office, potentially collapsing a fragile power
sharing deal. But even that outcome is unclear: His
foes agree they dislike him, but they disagree on
everything else, not least on who would replace him.
And in a country of often fickle political
loyalties, even some Maliki foes question whether
they have the backing for a vote -- or the stomach
for its messy aftermath. Those divisions hand the
embattled Shi'ite leader more room to fight on for
Iraq's crisis is watched closely by neighbours,
Turkey, Gulf Arab states Qatar and Saudi Arabia and
their rival, Shi'ite power Iran, countries that have
often dipped into the country's sectarian-tinged
politics to back or urge on one bloc or another.
"There will be complications, because the blocs
don't have any dialogue," veteran Kurdish lawmaker
Mahmoud Othman said. "Everyone uses their cards
against the other, so the question will be asked in
an atmosphere of animosity, and it will not be
CRISIS AFTER CRISIS
The departure of the last American troops in
December helped peel back the veneer over the deep
splinters in Iraq's cross-sectarian government that
took almost a year of backroom haggling to cobble
together after contested 2010 elections.
Maliki was engulfed in crisis that threatened to
bring down his government after a court sought to
arrest Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, and
lawmakers were told to dismiss Sunni deputy prime
minister Saleh al-Mutlaq who branded Maliki a
The quagmire around Maliki has only thickened since.
On one flank, Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc,
though increasingly splintered, is rustling up
support from other blocs for the no-confidence move
against a prime minister they say is increasingly
To the north, Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region is
testing Maliki's mettle by cutting off its oil
exports and hinting at a full-scale breakaway from
Baghdad after accusing him of amassing power at the
expense of Kurds and Sunni minorities.
Even within his Shi'ite alliance, Maliki is under
fire from Moqtada al-Sadr, the populist cleric who
helped re-elect him in 2010. His Sadrist movement
has begun aggressively flirting outside the Shi'ite
alliance and calling for Maliki to go.
Many Sunni Iraqis and Kurds believe Maliki is
shoring up his position, failing to live up to
agreements to share power, especially by cementing
his control over the key defence and interior
But forming a lasting alliance against Maliki looks
tough. Iraqiya -- leading the no-confidence charge
-- is splintered into at least seven factions,
including one breakaway group of 26 lawmakers who
oppose the vote campaign.
Kurdish blocs are also split between supporters of
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who has urged
and Kurdistan's President Masoud Barzani, whose
clash with Maliki seems at times a personal battle.
"The problem for the opposition to Maliki is that
all that unites them is opposition to Maliki. And
because they can't offer anything more positive, the
majority, and those who sit on the fence, will ask
why should we change?" one diplomat said.
"With everyone else running around, he becomes the
point of stability."
TOUGH ELECTORAL MATHS
Maliki, who rose through the ranks of the Shi'ite
Islamist Dawa party from spokesman to lawmaker and
once fled into exile from Saddam Hussein, has shown
himself to be a shrewd political operator even as
brawling factions try to gather against him.
The jockeying could be just posturing as political
blocs seek to position themselves before provincial
elections at the end of this year and the
parliamentary race in 2014.
Still, the mathematics of getting a vote of no
confidence through parliament look complicated.
Under the constitution, the president can call for a
vote of no confidence, which requires 164 votes out
of the Congress' 325 members to pass.
Sadrists claim to have collected petitions from more
than 176 lawmakers, to pressure Talabani to start
the process. But some Maliki supporters see Iraqiya
with only 50 votes of its own, which even joined
with 39 Sadrists and half the Kurdish 57 seats would
leave them short.
Talabani's office is checking the validity of
signatures Maliki's opponents says they have
collected to push for a vote. But in a signal of
tough legal challenges they will face, Maliki is
already claiming fraud among the signatories.
Getting past the non-binding petition to an actual
vote with a quorum in the parliament is a more
concrete hurdle, if Maliki's opponents can persuade
Talabani to call for the ballot.
"Based on the dismal average attendance record of
the Iraqi parliament, it is hard to see how today's
political constellation would translate into more
than 150 to 160 votes against Maliki in parliament,"
said Reidar Visser, editor of the Iraq website
While the parties wrangle over the vote, Iran, which
helped rally Shi'ite parties behind Maliki in the
past, maybe more keen on the status quo now,
especially with no predictable end to the violent
revolt in Syria, Tehran's key Arab ally.
Iranian officials have visited Talabani to push for
conciliation, and Sadr left on Tuesday to Iran where
he will be urged to curb his anti-Maliki campaign,
senior Shi'ite lawmakers familiar with Tehran's
For Kurdish lawmakers, their position is also
complicated by the dispute over oil and land between
the Iraqi Arab central government and Kurdistan.
They must weigh joining with Iraqi Arabs against
potential gains for disputed territories.
Even the names forwarded to replace Maliki from his
National Alliance are divisive. They include former
prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who many Sunnis
see as sectarian and who was criticized by the
United States, and former vice president, Adel
Abdul-Mahdi who lacks broad support.
According to the constitution, should Maliki lose a
vote, a caretaker government would follow, ushering
in chaotic negotiations over a new administration --
a scenario that makes even some Iraqiya chieftains
queasy about a vote.
"No one wins if we go ahead with this," said one
senior Iraqiya leader. "We will just enter into a
whirlpool, and under a caretaker government,
everyone will be a loser."
By Patrick Markey and Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters
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