Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 25
June 1, 2012-June 8, 2012
by Ramzy Mardini
Sadr Goes To Iran, Pressure Likely To Increase
At the invitation of Tehran, Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr traveled to Iran on Monday, adding speculation that Iran is increasing its pressure on Sadr to yield on his support for a no-confidence measure against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last week Sadr reportedly told Iranian Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani to leave his home in Najaf after he asked Sadr to reconsider his stand against Maliki. In what appears to be a relationship on bad terms, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Obeidi stated that “Iranian pressure [is] being exerted on some parties in order to avoid” the measures directed against Maliki.
Earlier this week, Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, an Iranian-based Shi’a cleric and once Sadr’s mentor, issued a fatwa that called for Shi’as not to back secular politicians, likely referring to many of Iraqiyya’s members, especially bloc leader Ayad Allawi. But Sadr appears to have ignored the fatwa, saying “it is impossible to separate between secularists and Islamists.” Last week, Sadr reportedly threatened to become a secularist if Haeri issued a fatwa prohibiting a no-confidence vote against Maliki. Haeri had recently sent a message to Sadr urging him not to split the Shi’a bloc by moving to remove Maliki. Iran has reportedly cut its monthly funding of $5 million to Sadr.
Sadrist rival group Assaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), an Iranian-sponsored Shi’a militant group that has become active in Iraqi politics, sought to capitalize on Sadr’s cooperation with the Sunnis and Kurds to replace Maliki. Mujahid al-Zargani, a member of AAH, stated that outsiders were offering the Sadrists money collapse the government. AAH leader Qais Khazali said he believed Sadr was “acting with a lot of insanity,” calling his rival’s cooperation with Sunnis and Kurds a “dumb step” that demonstrates his “recklessness.”
Despite Sadr’s rhetoric, a no-confidence vote remains highly unlikely, and other lawmakers have questioned whether the vote would be prudent or even possible. Iraqiyya lawmaker Maysa al-Taee, who prefers resolving the current disputes through negotiations, insisted that withdrawing confidence from the prime minister “would lead the country into abyss and will leave a security and political vacuum.” Sadrist lawmaker Jawad al-Hasnawi alluded to the concerns about Maliki not stepping down should a no-confidence vote be reached. “Maliki’s control on the state and security forces arouses our concerns that he may reject to submit his post in case the political sides withdraw confidence from him.”
Talabani Verifying Support To Unseat Maliki
The Kurds, Iraqiyya and the Sadrists sent Iraqi President Jalal Talabani a list of signatures from lawmakers who want to withdraw confidence in Maliki this week. Iraqiyya claims to have secured the signatures of 83 lawmakers for its bloc, bringing the total to 184 signatures to withdraw confidence in Maliki. However, other Iraqiyya and State of Law parliamentarians have disputed the veracity of the signatures. Following a phone call with Maliki, Talabani ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the issue and is reportedly calling each member on the list. State of Law officials, however, believe the anti-Maliki votes have not reached 163, the required amount in Parliament for an absolute majority in dissolving the government.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish Gorran Movement clarified that it has not yet committed to the no-confidence initiative. Gorran holds eight seats in Parliament, while the Kurdish Alliance bloc holds 49 seats. In addition, Shi’a cleric Ammar al-Hakim hinted this week that his party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, is interested in settling the disputes and is “not part of the current political crisis,” suggesting it will not move to unseat Maliki.
Maliki Blames Foreign Intervention
Maliki blamed “foreign influences” for the current political crisis involving efforts to remove him from power this week. His statements followed an article published on State of Law’s website that suggested that Saudi Arabia offered $3 million to every Iraqi lawmaker that signs on the request to withdraw confidence in the government. On Friday, Suhad al-Ubaidi, a member of the Hal party, said her colleagues have suspended their participation in unseating Maliki because it is part of a regional agenda “set by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey."
U.S. Ambassador Leaves Baghdad
U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey left Baghdad and is set to retire after a 35-year career in the Foreign Service. This week, Iraqi leaders were meeting with the U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires Robert Stephen Beecroft. Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Jeffrey as ambassador to Iraq and a former Iraq director on the National Security Council, held his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday. A full vote on the Senate floor has not yet been scheduled.
IHEC Requests To Begin Work On Elections
The head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is calling on Maliki to release the funds allocated for the preparations of the next provincial elections, currently scheduled to take place in early 2013. According to IHEC chief Faraj al-Haidari, the commission made a request to Maliki three weeks ago to release $10 million, but it has not received a response yet.
This week the Kurdish provincial elections scheduled to take place on September 27 were postponed indefinitely after IHEC requested more time to prepare the Kurdistan Regional Government. Political disputes surrounding the appointment of a new IHEC board likely contributed to the delay. The mandate for IHEC’s current board expired in April, but it was extended for an additional three months or until Parliament appoints another board. On Friday, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq called on Parliament to appoint new board members on time.