Does Maliki remain prime minister?

Scott Sadler Contributor
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Despite the fact that “the United Nations, the U.S. Embassy, and the Arab League as well as Iraqi election officials have all declared the election free of systematic fraud,” as the Associated Press points out, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hell-bent to make sure he remains the leader of Iraq.   Two months after the March 7th elections, voters are showing signs of frustration.  “The manual recount just delays the political process and it will destabilize the security situation,” one resident told the AP.

After a week in which Mr. Maliki also sought a court order after suggesting the election commission didn’t know how to do their jobs, the recount may just be an afterthought for the Prime Minister as he received some encouraging news this week.  His party, State of Law coalition and the conservative Shiite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) agreed to unite to form a government, just four parliamentary seats shy of a ruling majority.

Though this alliance does not guarantee Mr. Maliki a second term as prime minister, it does provide a shot in the arm to the Shittes.  This is especially troublesome as it is now clear former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will not become the country’s leader.  On top of that, this pact “could exacerbate a sense of marginalization among Sunnis, prompting them to once again resort to violence”, says The Washington Post.  Although, the group did extend an olive branch to Mr. Allawi’s party by inviting them to join the government in the name of “national unity”, according to The New York Times.  What that means is yet to be determined.

The biggest sticking point is the issue of who would be prime minister.  According to the AP, that could threaten to derail their plans to form a government.  This and other issues were stumbling blocks that prevented the groups from running together in the elections, the Post further wrote.  It is also unclear how well it will sit with Iraqis that a small group of clerics, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will have the final say on any disputes between the two allied blocs.

The alliance didnt sit well with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni who allied with Mr. Allawi, who said it had the signs of a “sectarian color. That is how Iraqis and the world will see it, whether we like it or not. This development will be a tragic step backward.”  Adding to that, a prominent Sunni cleric was gunned down in Baghdad on Wednesday.  “You cannot run Iraq without having significant Sunni participation,” said U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill.  For his part, Mr. Allawi is not backing down and says his party still has the right to form a government.

All of this as the Los Angeles Times hints that a “relative unknown will emerge as a compromise” candidate.  According to the Times, “Jaafar Sadr is already being widely tipped for that role … he has had no chance yet to make enemies, unlike most other politicians.”  Mr. Sadr is a second cousin and brother-in-law of the anti-American cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, but that’s all they have in common.  Mr. Sadr has distanced himself from Mr. al-Sadr’s political views going so far as to say a “strong, strategic” relationship with the United States is in Iraq’s best interests.  Tell that to Mr. al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army, appears to be making a comeback  “to ensure U.S. forces stick to a Dec. 31, 2011 deadline to withdraw from the country — threatening attacks on American troops if they stay past the date,” according to the Times.  For their part, the U.S. military has said they see no such signs of a resurgence.  Still, the mere fact this group is still very much alive is troubling for Iraq’s future.  Even more disturbing is the important role Mr. al-Sadr could play in the formation of a government.  His movement was the biggest winner in the INA and there has been talk they would like to control at least one of the ministries that oversee the army or police, according to the Post.

So, after a week in which Mr. Maliki has flexed his political muscle, it appears his party will continue at the helm but the biggest question now is whether or not Mr. Maliki will be the captain who steers the ship.

Scott Sadler is an experienced communicator with an in-depth expertise with crisis communications who has served in senior level positions in the federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.