“I’m still the head of government,” said a defiant Nuri al Maliki, who refuses to accept his replacement as Prime Minister of Iraq. Maliki has called for the Federal Court to rule before giving way to Haider al Abadi, to whom President Fuad Masum ordered last Monday to form a new Executive. However, the abandonment of his allies, including Iran, makes it unlikely that the al-Maliki’s stubbornness will survive the growing volatility in Iraq.
Analysts interpret the current Prime Minister’s actions as a desperate attempt to seek protection from imminent loss of immunity and armed protection.
Al Maliki accuses President Masum of violating the Constitution by appointing Abadi, a member of the Dawa party who has widespread support inside and outside Iraq.
“They may have pushed the situation” admits an Iraqi diplomat, who nevertheless justified the measure by the serious situation facing the country following the offensive launched by the Islamic State (EI). “The alternative is the disappearance of Iraq,” he added.
The progress of the extremists has been a problem for the fragile Iraqi system. Since June, ISIS has conquered large parts of northwest Iraq and sparked a security crisis that has forced the Yazidi Christian minority to run for the hills in order to save their lives. Last week, the worsening security situation even affected the autonomous region of Kurdistan, where many refugees have sought protection.
Although al–Maliki was the most voted in the elections last April, many people attribute ISIS success to the policies he adopted against minorities in Iraq. Those policies and his authoritarian style, led to the dismembering of his coalition, with 127 Shiite deputies, including nearly forty from his bloc to support Abadi last weekend.
From the beginning of the crisis, the United States conditioned any type of help to the formation of a government that satisfied American interests in Iraq, something the US calls an ‘inclusive Executive’, but that in reality means a government that is formed by US allies and puppets.
“Opposition to Al Maliki has been the most effective weapon used by ISIS to rally support among Sunni Arabs. Al-Malaki’s departure will be a blow to the extremists,” says Wayne White, a scholar at the Middle East Institute.
This seems to have understood Iran. According to several Iranian media, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a personal emissary to Iraq last month to participate in discussions with Shiite political and religious leaders to find an alternative to Al Maliki, the man supported by both Tehran and Washington back in 2006.
“I am confident that the appointment of the new prime minister in Iraq will undo the knot and will lead to the establishment of a new government,” said Iran’s supreme leader in a statement posted yesterday on his website.
Key to this gesture seems to have been a mistake of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority. In an unusual intervention in late June, Sistani called on politicians to agree on a new government as soon as possible to end the sectarian divide that threatened to plunge the country into another war. The officer also asked the new government to be “effective” and “avoid the mistakes of the past,” a thinly veiled criticism of the management of Al Maliki.
The outgoing prime minister, said in 2010 that he would not run for a third term, but on Monday he sent his private security force to take to the streets of Baghdad in what appeared to be a show of force.
But after a visit of several politicians on Wednesday, his office issued a statement urging members of the security forces to stay out of the political fray. “You have to understand that Al Maliki is not playing his political future, but his skin“, said European diplomatic sources in Baghdad.
The hope now is that Abadi achieves enough importance to attract the moderate Sunnis and halt the spread of ISIS in the country. In his first appearance before reporters after receiving the order to form a government, Abadi said he is committed to fighting terrorism. He also underlined the need for the Cabinet to be “based on competence and integrity.” Abadi has until September 10 to carry out his role, otherwise, the president will have assign the task to someone else.
Meanwhile, time is running out for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Yazidi people and other minorities trapped in areas under ISIS control. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people, mostly Yazidis, continue to be trapped in the Sinjar mountains without food or shelter. The UN has warned of the risk of genocide.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.