While Congress and the White House continue to argue over withdrawing US troops from Iraq, events in Iraq may yet overtake them both. Maliki's support is crumbling.
Legislators from several parties told USA TODAY that al-Maliki lacks the support in parliament to push through laws, such as a plan to distribute oil revenues, that could reduce tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq's parliament has failed to pass major legislation since a U.S.-led security plan began on Feb. 14.I think Maliki's loyal advisor is kidding himself if he thinks there are no alternatives to the current leader. Allawi is still keen for power again, and has been playing every angle for months - sucking up to the White House, the Sadrists and the Saudis, for instance - in an attempt to position himself for Maliki's downfall. The Sunni political leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, is well placed, being a nationalist fiercly committed to ending the occupation but also likely to be seen by Shiites as uninterested in walking back the nation to the bad old days of Sunni hegemony. Then there's Sadr himself, who isn't nearly as devisive a figure to Iraqis as US spin would like him to be. As I wrote back on the 17th, he's quite capable of allying with al-Mutlaq and others to produce a new coalition capable of forcing a change in government.
"He is a weak prime minister," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator who supported al-Maliki until recently. "This government hasn't delivered and is not capable of doing the job. They should resign."
..."The present government is not competent," said Dawood, a Shiite legislator. "It's more or less paralyzed, inactive. I doubt very much that this government can continue in power much longer."
A political adviser to al-Maliki, whose term ends in 2010, said that the prime minister has no power to pass laws by himself. "We can only ask, push, the (parliament) to approve," Sadiq al-Rikabi said.
Al-Rikabi said there is no viable alternative to al-Maliki as prime minister. "Suppose he resigns," al-Rikabi said. "Then what is the solution?"
The Bush administration "has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Pending constitutional amendments on issues such as tax revenue sharing have stalled, said Ayad al-Samarrai, deputy chairman of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group. He said al-Maliki's poor reputation among Sunnis was partly to blame. "We don't see any progress" on sectarian reconciliation, al-Samarrai said.
Six Cabinet ministers loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose support was crucial in naming al-Maliki as prime minister, resigned this month.
"(Al-Maliki) must do something to make this government stronger," said Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker loyal to al-Sadr. "If not, this government will expire within a few weeks."
On the 17th, I said that "we should soon see an alliance, maybe not even a formally announced one, between these Sunni groups and Sadr's bloc." Maliki and the US military seem to have handed them a ready made catalyst - the segregation wall around Baghdad's Adhamiya district.
Yesterday the NY Times wrote that the wall:
has proved to be an unlikely boon for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, making the Shiite politician — at least for now — into a champion for Sunnis because he publicly opposed the wall’s construction.However, the Times also quoted the chief Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, as saying “We will continue to construct the security barriers in the Adhamiya neighborhood. This is a technical issue."
At a rally on Monday, residents of the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiya pledged support for Mr. Maliki because of his declaration on Sunday in Cairo that construction of the wall around their neighborhood must stop. Their endorsement was all the more telling because many Sunnis see Mr. Maliki as the representative of a government bent on Sunni oppression.
“My view of Maliki has changed since I heard of this news, and we hope he would be able to carry out this decision,” to stop the wall’s construction, said Um Mohammed, a teacher in Adhamiya.
“We denounce the building of the wall, which will increase the sectarian rift,” she said as she stood with more than 1,000 neighborhood residents at the peaceful protest.
By late in the day, the American military, under pressure from the Iraqi government, appeared to be rethinking the plan. “This one was obviously one in which the people in the area expressed some concern,” said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon. “There are aspects of this that the Iraqi government feels at this point are not productive. We’ll continue to work with them on this and other tactics,” he said.
Today, according to "Roads To Iraq" blog, the Iraqi newspapers are saying Maliki has u-turned on the wall and that construction will indeed continue. Both Sunnis in general and nationalists of all stripes will see this, if true, as a massive betrayal of themselves and their nation's sovereignty.
I predict that if the wall doesn't come down, Maliki's government will - unless it is propped up at US gunpoint, of course. If Iraq is allowed to have its own political process Maliki's colaition will be replaced by one which wants the US out at the earliest opportunity and which will not be at all friendly to US national interests.