By Ramzy Mardini of the Institute for the Study of War
The Numbers Game
The informal process of counting votes to remove Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began this week as political opponents met in Sulaymaniya to continue discussions on moving forward. On Wednesday, Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on other political blocs to secure 124 parliamentarians to withdraw confidence from Maliki, adding that he will deliver all 40 of his lawmakers for a total of 164 votes. (Sadr likely misunderstood the number of votes required to secure an absolute majority, 163, in the 325-seat Parliament.) According to Ninawa Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, the political opposition had exceeded the required number of votes needed to remove Maliki. The Iraqiyya bloc had collected the signatures of 70 parliamentarians, Nujaifi asserted, and hoped to secure ten more signatures. He added that the Kurdish Alliance (49 seats) will try to persuade the Kurdish Gorran Movement (eight seats) in order to bring the total of Kurdish support to withdraw confidence to 57 parliamentarians. Other sources have claimed that Iraqiyya secured 79 votes, despite reports that a number of the bloc’s lawmakers have decided not to participate in a no-confidence measure against the prime minister. On Friday, Iraqiyya spokeswoman Maysoon al-Damluji said the number to withdraw confidence is increasing, and claimed that “signatures were collected from all the blocs,” including State of Law representatives, “but we don’t know their names or their number now.”
But outspoken Maliki advisor Sa’ad Mutalabi mocked the opposition’s claims that they have secured the required votes to withdraw confidence in the prime minister. “Just go ahead, we will sit there and laugh at the puny numbers you will gain in the Parliament,” he said.
Possible Proposal To Have Maliki Resign
Iraqiyya is reportedly examining a proposal that would allow Maliki to resign without facing prosecution for acts committed in his six-year tenure as prime minister. Iraqiyya “will scrutinize the sincerity of the proposal and its harmony with the legal measures … the constitution and the will of the politicians,” said Hadi al-Dalemi, a spokesperson for Iraqiyya. Dalemi suggested that Maliki may have supported the proposal after he met with Shi’a cleric Ammar al-Hakim and former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’afari on Thursday night. However, head of the Iraqiyya coalition in Parliament Salman al-Jumaili denied receiving any message after the meeting. The three leaders were reportedly discussing the importance of the unity of the Shi’a bloc at the meeting. It remains unclear where the proposal for Maliki to resign originated.
Sadr To Soleimani: Leave My Home
During the P5+1 talks in Baghdad last week, Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem al-Soleimani reportedly visited Sadr’s home in Najaf, where Soleimani asked the Shi’a cleric to reconsider his efforts to unseat Maliki. Sadr reportedly told Soleimani that the issue of withdrawing confidence from Maliki was strictly “an Iraqi affair” and asked the Iranian general to leave his home. Following the encounter, Shi’a parliamentarian Ahmad Chalabi reportedly asked Sadr whether Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeiri might issue a fatwa that calls for Shi’as to support Maliki. Sadr responded vigorously, “I will become a secularist if Haeiri issues a fatwa against withdrawing confidence from Maliki.” Haeiri, an Iranian-based Shi’a cleric and once Sadr’s mentor, recently sent a message to Sadr urging him not to split the Shi’a bloc by trying to remove a Shi’a prime minister.
Sadr faced questions over his growing criticism of Maliki this week. Sadr refused to exclude Maliki from the political process if the prime minister is removed from power. “I promise to grant Maliki some posts to be a partner in running the state and building Iraq,” Sadr stated. “I will not accept marginalizing Maliki or his party.” Sadr told Dawa party supporters that he is not targeting Maliki himself, but rather the premiership in order to allow all Iraqis to participate in the process of rebuilding the country. “You in the Dawa Islamic Party will remain our brothers whatever disputes to happen between us,” he said.
Maliki’s Cabinet Tour Leaves Mosul
Maliki held a session of the Council of Ministers on May 29 in Mosul, the capital of Ninawa province, and Kurdish officials in the Council of Ministers and local Kurdish politicians in Ninawa boycotted the session. According to Ninawa politicians, Maliki did not speak about political issues during the session but only spoke about improving services. Maliki will reportedly hold cabinet sessions in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Anbar “during the coming period,” after provincial councils asked to host the Council of Ministers in their respective governorates. Ninawa is the third province to host a cabinet session, following Basra and Kirkuk earlier this year.
Reports still vary on where Iraqi President Jalal Talabani stands in the efforts to replace Maliki. Lawmaker Farhad Atroushi of the Kurdish Alliance stated that Talabani promised to withdraw confidence from Maliki if the political blocs managed to secure the required number of votes in Parliament. But according to State of Law MP Salman Mousawi, Talabani rejected the request to withdraw confidence in the prime minister “due to lack of reasonable grounds.” Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani reportedly presented a list of signatures from parliamentarians to demonstrate that the threshold of 163 had been reached. According to a State of Law parliamentarian, speaking on condition of anonymity, “There is some Iranian pressure on the president (Talabani) not to send the letter to parliament (requesting the no-confidence vote) and to support al-Maliki.” Some lawmakers believe Talabani offered his resignation last week because he felt embarrassed by Kurds’ request for his support of a no-confidence measure against Maliki.
Iraqiyya Defectors Cry Foul
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.