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Nouri al-Maliki’s Maneuvering

One cannot but be awed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s unbridled will to win another term. He has managed to make a deal with his sometime-enemies in the Sadrist movement and win their support — this, only two years after he had sent the Iraqi army to clear the Sadrist militia out of Basra and Sadr City. Maliki is personally unpopular, not only with the Sadrists but with pretty much everyone else in Iraq’s political elite. Yet he has managed to put himself into a position to become prime minister for another term. Unfortunately, Iraq is not close to actually forming a government, because he still has to reach some sort of accommodation with the Sunnis, who are now represented by a secular Shiite — Ayad Allawi. It seems likely that Allawi’s coalition will be accorded some cabinet posts in the new government, as will the Sadrists, the Kurds, and other prominent players. There is still much camel trading to be done, which could drag the protracted process of forming the new government formation into next year.

Is Maliki’s recent success good or bad from the American perspective? At this point, it’s still hard to say. Obviously, the fact that the Sadrists — the most anti-American faction in Iraq — will be part of the government isn’t good news. But nor would it have been good news if Maliki had made a deal with ISCI, another major Shiite party also seen as extremely close to Iran. Some analysts are suggesting that these latest developments mean that Iran is calling the shots in Iraqi politics. I wouldn’t be so sure. There is no question that Iran has an influence but it is hardly in charge. No one is. At some level, this is good news for a country like Iraq, which has been scarred by so many years of dictatorial misrule. But there is a thin line between inclusiveness and chaos and Iraq is now on the border between the two. The failure of a political class to agree on a coalition government is undermining public confidence and providing an opening to both Sunni and Shiite extremists.

I have some trepidation about seeing the power-hungry Maliki return for another term. But at this point, I just wish the Iraqi politicos would reach an agreement on a new government — any government. Their failure to do so is making a mockery of Iraq’s nascent democracy, which showed such great promise with the fair and open elections held in March.


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