Iraq’s Nuri al-Maliki insists he should remain premier, but with a rival candidate selected with strong international backing, his bid to cling to power has reached a dead end.
President Fuad Masum tasked Haidar al-Abadi with forming a new government, but two-term premier Maliki has slammed the move as a “constitutional violation” and vowed to sue the president.
While Maliki has railed against the choice of Abadi, a member of his Dawa party, international support for the prime minister-designate has poured in, most importantly from Washington and Tehran.
Iran, a key ally of Maliki, congratulated Abadi and said it supports the legal process under which he was elected.
“We congratulate Haidar al-Abadi on his nomination as prime minister, for him personally and for religious dignitaries, the Iraqi population and its political groups,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary and representative of supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
“The framework provided by the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the prime minister has been chosen by the majority group in the parliament,” Shamkhani said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said “we stand absolutely squarely behind President Masum (who) has the responsibility for upholding the constitution of Iraq.”
And in a further rebuke, Kerry had said prior to the announcement of Abadi’s selection that Iraqi Shiites have “three candidates or so for prime minister. None of them are Mr. Maliki.”
“Maliki politically is finished,” said Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think-tank. “I just can’t see him staying in terms of the legal, democratic framework.”
But he has “a vast security network — he has intelligence men, security officers” who are “certainly not loyal to the state of Iraq. They’re there because they owe their jobs and their livelihoods to Maliki.”
“So I never rule out Maliki — he’s been a survivor, he’s proved himself time and time again,” said Khoei.
Iran’s desire to maintain the unity of the Shiite bloc in Iraq, which is threatened by Maliki’s vocal opposition to Abadi, is an important factor, he said.
“This line was crossed in a very public and ugly fashion,” Khoei said, predicting that Tehran would “tell Maliki this is not viable, you cannot remain in power.”
– ‘It’s finished’ –
John Drake, a security analyst with AKE Group, said that Maliki “has a lot of leverage, but he will struggle now that international players have congratulated Abadi.”
“The concern is his influence in the security forces and whether or not he could stage some sort of in-situ coup, but this will be difficult without the backing of significant portions of the security forces — as well as the Shiite militia groups.”
Kirk Sowell, the Amman-based publisher of the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter, said that Iran’s declared support for Abadi clearly shows that even the last-ditch option of a coup aimed at keeping Maliki in power is increasingly unlikely.
“With Iran against him, as opposed to being neutral… I can’t imagine they would even try,” Sowell said.
“It’s finished,” he said of Maliki’s bid for a third term.
Maliki has moved from an obscure exile regarded as a weak compromise candidate in 2006 to a powerful prime minister who maintained tight control over security forces and is widely reviled among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.
Sunni anger has played a major role in a more than 15-month surge in violence in Iraq, which culminated in a sweeping insurgent offensive that began in June and has overrun large areas of five provinces.
But Maliki has made little in the way of concessions to Sunni Arabs, instead unsuccessfully seeking to address the problem with military force.
Ultimately, Sowell said, major changes in policy under Abadi are unlikely.
“He’s a completely mainstream guy, he’s kind of a grey suit,” said Sowell, adding that Abadi has “never been one to push for reform,” and the coalition backing him would in any case not likely be supportive.
There may be “some effort at change” under Abadi, but “I would be surprised if there’s a dramatic turnaround,” he said.