BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s embattled prime minister has fought off an attempt to push him out of office, aided by divisions among his opponents and Iranian intervention on his behalf.
Nouri al-Maliki’s tactical victory averts a potentially destabilizing contest to replace him, at least for the time being, but perpetuates the sectarian-based deadlock that has paralyzed the country for years.
In the latest setback for those trying to unseat al-Maliki, the country’s president said Sunday he would not ratify a petition for a no-confidence vote because it lacked the needed number of signatures.
An Iraqi lawmaker who supports the prime minister says Iran is helping him by trying to buy time. Tehran is pushing for a two-month grace period during which al-Maliki, who has close ties with the Islamic Republic, would ostensibly try to appease coalition partners who accuse him of monopolizing power.
At the root of the standoff is the unresolved power struggle between Iraq’s three main groups — the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds — following the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Elections in March 2010 were inconclusive. Al-Maliki was able to form a national unity government but its component parties do not trust and in some cases detest each other.
The continued impasse has raised the possibility of renewed sectarian violence and hampered plans for rebuilding the country ravaged by a decade of fighting.
Six months after the departure of the last U.S. forces, hopes seem to be fading that oil-rich Iraq can quickly transform into a functioning democracy.
“It’s a sensitive and tense situation and anything could go wrong,” analyst Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group said of the ongoing political crisis.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is under fire for breaking promises to share power with his partners in a unity government that includes the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc, Kurdish parties and loyalists of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sunnis who believe he is targeting their leaders with politically motivated prosecutions and Kurds who think he is hostile to their northern autonomy have their own reason to dislike the prime minister.
Al-Maliki’s erstwhile partners have been pushing to unseat him with a no-confidence vote in the 325-member parliament, but appear to be struggling to muster the required 164 votes.
Last week, they said they sent a petition for a no-confidence vote with 176 signatures of lawmakers to President Jalal Talabani — a Kurd with ties to Iran who is apparently reluctant to see al-Maliki replaced. On Sunday, Talabani said the petition only had 160 valid signatures, falling short by four. He said 13 lawmakers told him they were withdrawing or suspending their signatures.
The rebels in al-Maliki’s coalition can also force a no-confidence vote without Talabani’s help, but it’s a longer, more cumbersome process.
After Talabani’s ruling, al-Maliki called for more talks to resolve the coalition crisis.
Al-Maliki’s main foreign backer, Shiite-ruled Iran, is also trying to keep him in power, according to several Shiite politicians who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of those efforts. Al-Maliki is a key guarantor of Tehran’s influence in Iraq and forged close ties with Iran’s leaders during two decades in exile there in the Saddam era.
The push to unseat al-Maliki hinges on al-Sadr, whose loyalists have 40 seats in parliament. The mercurial young cleric has a long history of conflict with al-Maliki, but is also particularly vulnerable to Iranian pressure.
Sadr bolted the Shiite political camp several weeks ago to side with Iraqiya and the Kurds. Shortly after that, he was summoned to Tehran, where he was asked to give al-Maliki two more months to work out his coalition problems, according to Shiite lawmaker Humam al-Hamoudi, an al-Maliki supporter.
To add to the pressure, al-Sadr’s Iranian-based spiritual leader issued a religious edict that would rule having al-Sadr side with Sunnis and Kurds.
Al-Sadr’s response to the pressure remains unclear.
Al-Hamoudi said he expects al-Sadr will eventually return to the Shiite fold, for fear of losing support among his constituents.
Before departing for Tehran, al-Sadr tried to unify the ranks, asking senior members of his movement and the Mahdi Army militia to sign a loyalty oath to him with a fingerprint dipped in blood, said a senior militia commander, Abu Ali Rubai.
Meanwhile, the push against al-Maliki is likely to continue.
The coalition rebels said in a statement they would “continue to mobilize lawmakers,” while al-Hamoudi suggested that a lack of trust will make it hard to solve the coalition’s problems.
“The problem is that al-Maliki has signed so many signatures before, but the level of commitment will only be seen in the future,” al-Hamoudi said, hinting at broken pledges of the past.
In the original coalition deal, reached after nine months of political wrangling following the 2010 election, al-Maliki made sweeping concessions in a bid to form a government. “What he signed up to was very theoretical and not achievable,” said Reidar Visser, a Norway-based analyst who writes for the blog historiae.org.
Among other things, al-Maliki promised to set up a body that would have final say on legislation and be headed by the leader of Iraqiya, but later reneged. Al-Maliki also failed to appoint defense and interior ministers, jobs he kept for himself as he tightened control over the security forces.
The deadlock has meant parliament is not passing important bills — key among them those that regulate oil revenue-sharing.
The uncertainty has fed a number of Iraq’s ongoing crises, such as the conflict between the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north and the central government in Baghdad over the oil rights.
Hiltermann said Iraq’s lack of effective government has been cushioned by its oil riches — an income tens of billions of dollars a year.
He said he expects Iraq to muddle through as long as oil keeps flowing. “It’s not a good situation for Iraq,” he said. “Just more of the same.”
More Related Stories
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11