June 20, 2012

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update #26

By Ramzy Mardini of the Institute for the Study of War

Sadr Returns To Najaf, Speaks With Maliki
Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Najaf on Wednesday night after spending a week and a half in Iran. According to State of Law member Kamal Saadi, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Sadr talked over the telephone on Thursday. Saadi said the conversation was positive and that he believed the atmosphere was now ready to bring all parties to the negotiating table and settle their disputes surrounding the political crisis.
On Tuesday, Maliki held his weekly Council of Ministers session in the southern province of Dhi Qar. Sadr thanked Maliki for holding cabinet sessions in the provinces and suggested the idea that it was a response to “pressures.” Dhi Qar was the fourth province to host a cabinet session, following Basra, Kirkuk, and Ninawa. 
Blinken Visits Iraq
Tony Blinken, the National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, discussed bilateral relations with a range of Iraqi and Kurdish leaders, including Maliki, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, and Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein Shahrastani, while he was in Iraq this week. Blinken called Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, telling him the U.S. will not become a player in the current internal disputes and urged all to assuage tensions through dialogue. According to Nujaifi’s office, the speaker declined Blinken’s counsel to meet with Maliki, believing the timing was not appropriate. Blinken’s meetings preceded a Wednesday cabinet-level meeting on Iraq at the White House, which discussed security and energy cooperation with regards to the bilateral U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.  According to a White House statement, Blinken “urged Iraqi leaders to move quickly to alleviate current tensions in order to refocus energy on critical state-building challenges, including preparations for provincial and local elections next year.  He underscored that the United States calls on Iraq’s neighbors to support Iraq’s sovereign right to choose its own government.” 
Opposition Looking For Plan B
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced on Saturday that not enough parliamentarians signed on to support a no-confidence vote against the prime minister. Following his investigation to scrutinize the veracity of the signatures, only 160 signatures in favor of the initiative could be validated, Talabani said. He had reportedly promised Barzani that if they were able to acquire at least 163 signatures, he would submit the necessary request to initiate a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
Members of the anti-Maliki front met on Sunday in Arbil to discuss the next step in their efforts to replace the prime minister and agreed to continue to the second constitutional path to collapse the government. This involves reaching an absolute majority in the 325-seat Parliament (163 votes) following an inquiry directed against Maliki, who must be summoned for questioning. The opposition parties are preparing to investigate Maliki and have reportedly tasked Baha al-Araji, a senior Sadrist lawmaker, to lead the effort in Parliament. Despite Talabani’s announcement last Saturday, the opposition members still believe they have the required number of votes to remove Maliki from power.
Talabani Threatens To Resign Again
Talabani reportedly threatened to resign this week after anti-Maliki leaders continued to try to change his position on the no-confidence measure against the prime minister. In response to demands from Barzani, Sadr and Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi, Talabani asked them to stop “provoking and accusing” him and warned that he would quit if they continued to try to change his mind. They had asked the president to request Speaker Nujaifi to convene Parliament and carry out a no-confidence vote against the prime minister.
Earlier in the week Allawi had said that the president was “the one who suggested the proposal of withdrawing confidence” from Maliki. Parties against the no-confidence measure, such as the Iraqiyya splinter White party, criticized the accusations directed against Talabani. “These blocs must not accuse Talabani who is the protector of the constitution,” the party said in a statement.
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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