Balancing Maliki


Executive Summary

  • Iraq’s political map has changed dramatically since the January 31, 2009 provincial elections, as political parties have formed new national coalitions.
  • Prime Minister Maliki’s State of the Law coalition fared the best in the elections, and had the upper hand in choosing alliance partners in Iraq’s provinces.
  • Maliki formed alliances of convenience in the provinces while courting the Sadrists and the National Dialogue Front as potential parliamentary partners.  Maliki’s efforts to reconcile with these groups and their supporters failed, therefore the national alliances he desired did not emerge.
  • The realignment towards the Prime Minister in the provinces and Maliki’s efforts to consolidate control through alliances at the national level nevertheless generated new coalitions in Parliament that aimed to limit his increasing power.
  • The debate over the selection of a new Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker and the 2009 budget forced the main political blocs in the parliament to reevaluate their relationships vis-à-vis Maliki and other parties.
  • The Iraqi Council of Representatives used its powers to curb the strength of the Prime Minister and executive branch – for example, in cutting funds for the Prime Minister’s office in the 2009 budget and compelling his ministers and generals to testify before them.
  • After provincial elections, Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the largest Shi’a party in the anti-Maliki coalition, were at a political impasse.
    • ISCI, defeated in the provincial elections, needed a way to restore its prestige and survive the national elections scheduled for January 2010.
    • Maliki wanted to remove the potential for a no-confidence vote that would remove him from office.
  • Maliki and ISCI are now negotiating to re-partner nationally as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which would effectively ally the two largest Shi’a parties in Iraq. 
  • Senior members of the Iranian regime have actively supported a Maliki-ISCI alliance in the 2010 elections – and the Shi’a parties have been responsive to their interventions.
    • ISCI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has encouraged these negotiations from his hospital room in Tehran, which nearly every senior Iraqi leader has visited since May ostensibly to pay respects to the dying Hakim and to discuss recent political developments. 
    • Senior Iranian officials such as Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki have met Iraqi leaders in al-Hakim’s room.
    • During Maliki’s visit to al-Hakim in Tehran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei urged the Shi’a political leaders to revive the UIA. 
    • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has likewise visited Hakim personally, while Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met with Maliki in Iraq.
  • Amidst the discussions to revive the UIA, there was also a fundamental restructuring of the main Sunni party after elections.
    • Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi stepped down as head of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP).
    • Parliamentarian Osama Tawfiq al-Tikriti replaced him as the leader of the IIP, with Speaker of the Parliament Ayad al-Samaraie as the deputy leader.
    • Parliamentarian Harith al-Obeidi was chosen to lead the Iraqi Accordance Front following Samaraie’s accession to the Speakership, although he was assassinated several weeks later.
  • The negotiations to rebuild the UIA are still in their initial stages and the parliamentary election is months away.
  • A revival of the UIA reduces the possibility for success of independent Shi’a candidates or cross-sectarian alliances in the 2010 elections.
  • A revival of the UIA increases the likelihood that Maliki will be chosen as Prime Minister again in 2010.
  • Maliki may begin to challenge the idea of ethnic and sectarian distribution of offices after the 2010 election, as he had attempted in the wake of the 2009 provincial elections.  If he does not distribute offices to Sunni and Kurds, as well as other Shi’a parties, he will marginalize these groups within Iraqi national politics –potentially leading to violence.
  • The main office that the Sunnis seek is the speakership of the parliament, which is the primary office in national politics through which they have accomplished their agenda. 
  • Maliki is likely to seek control of the speakership of the parliament in 2010, as the body is the most effective check on his authority.  A test case about the future of the Sunni in Iraqi politics therefore lies in who is chosen to be Speaker of the Parliament in 2010. This selection will also indicate whether the office of the prime minister is likely to grow more powerful – and perhaps even anti-democratic – in the future.