Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Maliki Ouster

By Cernig

CBS News is reporting that the main Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament is planning to put forward a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Maliki.
CBS News has learned that on July 15, they plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Even those closest to the Iraqi prime minister, from his own party, admit the political situation is desperate.

"I feel there is no strategy, so the people become hopeless," said Faliy al Fayadh, an MP from the Dawa Party. "You can live without petrol, without electricity, but you can't live without hope."

Iraq's prime minister is facing his most serious challenge yet. The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

The Iraq Project is known to the highest levels of the U.S. government. CBS News has learned it was discussed in detail on Vice President Dick Cheney's most recent visit to Baghdad, when he met with the Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

Al-Maliki has announced his own alliance to try save his government, but even his vice president says that's little more than a short-term fix.

"Cosmetic change is not going to serve the interests of Iraqis is not going to stabilize, is not going to improve security , what we need is much bigger that that," said al Hashimi, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Leaders of the Iraq Project claim they have the necessary votes to force al-Maliki to resign, but that has yet to be tested in parliament. For now, the U.S. is still standing by the Iraqi leader – publicly at least.
The Iraq Project seems to be the focus-group tested name for what has also been called the Iraq Salvation Front. It's a broad-based cross-sectarian coalition including such disparate figures as the Sunnis, secular populist Allawi and the Sadrists. The movement was first mentioned back in December of last year and since then they've been moving carefully to establish a position of strength in order to make a legitimate political challenge to Maliki's government. We've been following that developing position fairly closely here at Newshoggers, as has Kevin Drum. I think the Project's claim to have enough votes to unseat Maliki is a credible one - they've been aiming for such a vote since word one as a declared intent and wouldn't take the risk of announcing it now unsless they were sure of it. I guess we'll find out on June 15th.

But if the Iraqi Project is successful in completing a peaceful political coup and ousting Maliki then their other stated aim is to make it the policy of both the Iraqi parliament and government that U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq when the U.N. mandate expires (I believe that's in December). Bush and others have repeatedly said they would leave Iraq if the Iraqi government asked them to. Yet that jars with long-term basing plans and the rhetoric of a Korean-style presence lasting decades.

Should the Iraqi government ask the U.S. to leave and Bush refuse, for whatever reason, then the level of violence so far levelled at occupation forces will seem like a walk in the park in comparison to what will come next. It won't even matter if the Bush administration can paint the surge as a partial success.

It always amazes me that so much written in the U.S. about Iraq assumes that only Americans can make the final decisions about the U.S. presence there. The Iraqis have a different view and it's one it would be insanity to ignore.

Update The ruckus in parliament isn't the only negative sign for that final corner long dreamed about by the Bush loyalists. The Guardian writes:
President George Bush's hopes for making progress with his new Iraq strategy suffered a double blow when there was an upsurge in violence over the weekend and fresh political turmoil in the country.
Twenty-three Iraqi army recruits were killed yesterday the day after a truck bomb killed 150 people in Armili, the second worst attack on civilians since the US invasion in 2003.

The flare-up came as the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on whom Mr Bush is dependent, faced renewed pressure from both Shia and Sunni parliamentarians. The latter disclosed they are planning a vote of no-confidence on July 15.

The US administration had been looking for respite after the full deployment of an extra 30,000 troops ordered to Iraq by Mr Bush in January. But US defence department statistics for May published yesterday showed there were 6,039 violent incidents, the highest since November 2004.

Both Mr Bush and Congress have set a series of benchmarks for Mr Maliki to reach but the Bush administration is reconciled to the fact that the Iraqi leader will not make it. The benchmarks included a deal to share oil revenue between Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, which might have helped with political reconciliation.

The lack of a deal will make it politically difficult for Mr Bush in September when the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, are due to report on progress. The Democrats are to embark on a new attempt in September to bring US troops home and lack of progress on the benchmarks could swing some disillusioned Republicans behind them.

The fragility of Mr Maliki's position was underlined yesterday when officials in the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement yesterday condemned statements made by him. Mr Maliki said on Saturday that Saddam Hussein loyalists and criminal gangs had infiltrated the Sadrist movement. His comments were among his harshest criticisms against his former allies who helped his Dawa party take the premiership.

Sheik Ahmed al-Shaibani, an aide to Mr Sadr, said: "This government is at the edge of an abyss. It will collapse."
The BBC has more on that last item, the final declaration of an open split between the Dawa party of Maliki and the Sadrists. Sistani obviously wasn't the final and foreceful voice on Shia unity some expected him to be. It also has some graphics on the levels of violence seen during the surge which will not be appearing in hopefully upbeat Bush administration powerpoints come September.

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