May 29, 2012

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update #23

By Ramzy Mardini of the Institute for the Study of War

Efforts To Remove Maliki Intensify
 
Efforts to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki intensified this week, likely due to a lack of confidence that he would not fulfill his promise to step down after two terms. Political opponents may believe that removing Maliki now is their best opportunity given his increasingly authoritarian behavior.
 
The second meeting, in what appears to be a series of consultations among Maliki’s political opponents occurred in Najaf on May 19 in Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s home. This follows a similar meeting held in Arbil on April 28. Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi attended the April meeting but sent representatives in their place to the Najaf meeting. Prominent attendees included former Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Barham Salih, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rowsh Shaways, and Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.
 
Participants sent two letters after the meeting. One asked the National Alliance, the combined Shi’a bloc that includes Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the Sadrist-dominated Iraqi National Alliance, to nominate a candidate to replace Maliki within one week. The other asked Talabani to call for withdrawing confidence from the prime minister. The president may submit a request to Parliament to withdraw confidence from the prime minister, according to Article 61(8) of the Iraqi Constitution.
 
Talabani has reportedly met with Maliki recently to encourage him to respond positively to the demands from the Najaf meeting, and Ibrahim al-Ja’afari, former prime minister and head of the National Alliance, has tried to encourage Maliki to make some concessions toward the Sadrists.  State of Law has yet to make an official response despite hours of internal party meetings.
 
On April 28, Barzani convened the first meeting in Arbil with Talabani, Allawi, Sadr, and Speaker Osama al-Nuajfi to determine the appropriate response to Maliki’s failure to implement the Arbil Agreement and the disputes surrounding last December’s political crisis, which began with Maliki using security forces and the judiciary against his political rivals in the Iraqiyya bloc. After the meeting they issued an ultimatum that called for Maliki to adhere to nine demands or face the prospect of a no-confidence vote in Parliament in 15 days should he continue his not adhering to previous agreements. The deadline passed without action.
 
The National Alliance is conducting meetings in Baghdad to discuss the new ultimatum, which ends on Saturday, May 26. Senior Iraqiyya lawmaker Hamid al-Mutlaq stated that procedures for withdrawing confidence will begin after Saturday, emphasizing that a majority parliamentary coalition supports the no-confidence measure. Ali al-Allaq, a key Maliki ally and senior State of Law parliamentarian, stated on Thursday that the National Alliance will soon respond to to the Najaf meeting with full support for Maliki and no alternative candidates to replace him. However, Sadr reportedly told a supporter this week that he would not support holding a referendum to select the next premier and added that the National Alliance would be the responsible entity in finding a replacement because “there are more than one alternative.” Likely candidates to replace Maliki would be Ja’afari, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, Vice President Khudair al-Kuzai, and Ahmad Chalabi, according to Iraqi press reports. The anti-Maliki group’s plan is likely to agree on a candidate first in order to immediately replace Maliki following a vote of no-confidence. The constitution stipulates that the prime minister would continue in his position, even after a successful no-confidence vote, until a new Council of Ministers is formed within thirty days of withdrawing confidence.
 
Despite Iran’s opposition to unseating Maliki, some lawmakers believe Iran is reconsidering its policy given the threat that Maliki’s survival is having on Shi’a political unity, particularly the prospect of new alliances forming between Shi’a splinters from the National Alliance and Sunni groups. Should Sadr fail in his public efforts to hold Maliki accountable, some speculate that the Sadrist bloc (along with other Shi’a parties) will terminate its alliance with the State of Law. An Iraqi news outlet on Thursday cited a source within the Office of the Commander in Chief who said Maliki had issued an order to send 400 soldiers from the Baghdad Brigade near Sadr’s home in Najaf.
 
MP Withdraws From Maliki’s Coalition
 
Parliamentarian Manal al-Musawi withdrew from Maliki’s State of Law coalition to become an independent lawmaker on Friday. She is the second lawmaker to leave State of Law, following Sabah al-Saidi, who left the coalition last year after he criticized Maliki’s authoritarian behavior. Musawi’s brother is Mohammed al-Musawi, the chairman of the Karbala Provincial Council. The council’s spokesman stated that Musawi left “due to the political disputes,” most likely referring to the political standoff surrounding the no-confidence measure against Maliki.
 
Talabani Unlikely to Resign
 
President Jalal Talabani reportedly gave his resignation to Barzani on Wednesday, but his motives and ultimate intentions are unclear. A Kurdish newspaper cited Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani saying that Talabani had offered his resignation as a symbolic way to demonstrate Kurdish unity over Arbil’s growing rift with Baghdad regarding ongoing disputes. The president “with all his authorities supports the views of the Region [Kurdistan] against Baghdad,” Nechirvan said. According to members within Talabani’s camp, the Iraqi president’s intention of resigning his post is not accurate. In an attempt to blame intra-Kurdish tensions, State of Law MP Hanan Fatlawi stated that Barzani had requested Talabani’s resignation “due to the latter’s national stances,” suggesting that Talabani supported national issues as opposed to Barzani’s regional focus on building the Kurdistan Region.
 
Nujaifi Comes Under Fire
 
Maliki’s State of Law coalition has reportedly threatened to implement a no-confidence vote against Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi in retaliation to his involvement in the threats to unseat Maliki. However, the ruling bloc denied reports that it is collecting signatures for a no-confidence vote to unseat Nujaifi, but instead warning him that his replacement will be sought should he continue to side with Allawi against Maliki. State of Law Parliamentarian Ali al-Shalah warned that his bloc wants to “deliver a message” to Nujaifi that as head of Parliament he must behave as a neutral figure. “Otherwise we’ll have to withdraw confidence [from Nujaifi] and overcome the sectarian and partisan situation,” he said. Aziz al-Mayahi, a member of the Iraqiyya splinter White Bloc, called on lawmakers to remove Nujaifi from his position “due to his personal behavior” and “overriding his constitutional authorities.”
 
Despite the threats, Nujaifi is receiving support elsewhere. Kurdish lawmaker Mahma Khalil stated this week that the Kurdish Alliance will not participate in any effort to dismiss Nujaifi from the speakership and considered State of Law measure an attempt to divert attention from the threats to remove Maliki from power.
 
Sadr Turns Heads
 
As he becomes a key player seeking to remove Maliki from power, Muqtada al-Sadr made surprising statements this week regarding regional affairs. Following an inquiry supporters raised over his views about the burning of the Turkish flag earlier this week, Sadr responded that the act was a “big childish mistake” and represented “reckless policy.” Protesters demonstrated in front of the Turkish Consulate in Basra on May 19 and burned the Turkish flag. Demonstrators denounced Ankara’s meddling in Iraqi affairs and criticized the Turkish government for hosting Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who Baghdad authorities want to try for alleged involvement in acts of terrorism. Sadr’s comments come as anti-Turkish sentiment increases in the Shi’a community following a war of words between Maliki and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Baghdad’s handling of the Hashemi case.
 
In addition, Sadr criticized the hosting of the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) negotiations in Baghdad over Iran’s nuclear program. “Involving Iraq in that case and other cases is dangerous and unacceptable, it could lead to many negative consequences,” Sadr said. “Iraq is going through more dangerous stage; the government should consider its people before it consider its neighbors.”
 
Iraqi Responses to P5+1 Talks Reveal Frustrations
 
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has prioritized bringing a range of international diplomatic and cultural events to Iraq as a means of demonstrating newfound stability and projecting regional significance after nearly a decade as playing field rather than player. This week, negotiators from the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany gathered in Baghdad to continue discussions with Iranian negotiators over Iran’s nuclear program.
 
Both prior to and during the talks, Iraq’s president and Foreign Ministry officials emphasized Iraq’s importance in the Middle East and the international community and the government’s willingness to facilitate a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Outside the state’s diplomatic personnel, however, responses to Iraq’ hosting the talks provide glimpses into the intensification of a protracted political standoff. To read more about how Iraqis reacted to hosting the summit, click here.
 
To learn about the evolving relationship between Kurdistan and the United States, read Ramzy Mardini's backgrounder, " Relations with Iraq's Kurds: Toward a Working Partnership." For a comprehensive look at the first two months since U.S. troops left Iraq, read " Iraq's Recurring Political Crisis."  To read a transcript from the Feb. 29 event "Policing Iraq," click here, and to read a transcript from the Feb. 16 event "Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal," click here. To read past weekly updates, click here.

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