Iraq’s politicians have taken some important steps towards forming a new government. A speaker of parliament and a new president were elected in July 2014. Now President Fuad Masum must pick a candidate for prime minister from the largest bloc in parliament, which is the National Alliance (NA) made up of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law (SOL), the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq’s Citizen’s Alliance, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar bloc, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Trend. That’s the last major barrier as Premier Maliki has refused to step aside despite opposition from within the NA, his own State of Law, the religious establishment in Najaf, and Iran.
New Iraqi President Masum is waiting for the National Alliance to name its candidate for premier. Will it be Maliki, another figure from State of Law or a politician from another list within the coalition? (Al Arabiya)
In mid-July a new speaker of parliament and president of Iraq were elected. On July 15, Salim Jabouri of Mutahidun was elected the new speaker, with Haidar Abadi of State of Law his first deputy and Aram Sheikh Mohammed of the Change List his second deputy. It took two rounds of balloting to select Abadi as he was challenged by Ahmed Chalabi who was elected to parliament as part of the Citizen’s Alliance. Chalabi did not actually desire the position, but wanted to make a point that Maliki could be stopped from being elected to a third term by his opponents. Then after some internal divisions within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were overcome Fuad Masum was elected the new president of Iraq on July 24. This was a break from former elections when the speaker, president and premier were all part of a package deal worked out by the winning lists. That was impossible this year since Maliki insisted that he be the candidate for prime minister, while his critics within the NA could not agree upon an alternative. What did hold was the ethnosectarian quota system with a Sunni becoming speaker and a Kurd being president. Likewise the premiership will remain with the Shiite parties.
Maliki is trying to wait out his opponents like he did in 2010, but there is more writing on the wall each week that he will not be able to hold onto power. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar bloc and the Supreme Council’s Citizen’s Alliance ran against the prime minister and have continued to demand that his State of Law replace him. Both Ahrar and Citizen’s said they had their own candidates such as former vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi, and ex-Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, and that State of Law had alternatives like Maliki adviser Tariq Najm, Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani and Transportation Minister Hadi Ameri, but could not move forward as long as Maliki demanded to remain in office showing the divisions within the National Alliance. The Najaf clergy has become more and more vocal against the prime minister. July 16 Sheikh Ali Najafi the spokesman for his father Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi said that a new government needed to be formed quickly without Maliki to solve the on going crisis in the country. July 25 during Friday prayers Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani released a statement that Iraq’s leaders should not “cling” to power obviously referring to Maliki. Third, Iran has apparently come out against the premier’s third term. According to the Associate Press, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force General Qasim Suleimani talked with Maliki about stepping down, but he refused. Last splits have arisen within State of Law as well. After Sistani’s remarks the prime minister’s own Dawa Party said that it would follow the Ayatollah’s guidance. July 28 ISCI’s Buratha News reported that the Badr Organization left State of Law because of Maliki’s obstinacy. SOL has responded to all of these attacks by claiming that since it won the most seats it therefore has the right to pick the next premier. Maliki even went to the courts trying to get them to declare State of Law not the National Alliance as the largest bloc in parliament and thus giving it the sole right to name the premiership, but he was turned down. In 2010 the victorious parties took ten months to put together a new ruling coalition. Maliki dragged out the process and brought the courts, Tehran, and Washington eventually to his side. The Supreme Court for example ruled that the party that was able to put together the largest alliance after the election not the one that won the most votes had the right to name the candidate for premier. This has now come back to haunt Maliki as it makes his claim that the SOL’s victory in the polls gives him the right to stay in office invalid. Instead it is up to the divided NA to make that decision. His opponents within the coalition now have the backing of Najaf and Tehran if the AP story is correct. The latter was instrumental in ensuring Maliki a 2nd term after the last elections, but the Iranians may now seem him as a source of instability and want him out. Finally State of Law has lost its internal cohesion. The report about Badr leaving SOL may not be true, but there is definitely dissension within its ranks. The Iraqi elite is still not following the timetable laid out in the law to form a new government, but it is making slow progress as the election of Jabouri and Masum show. That means the final step of naming a candidate for prime minister may occur sooner rather than later as Maliki’s support is being worn down.
Nouri al-Maliki was the resounding winner in the 2014 elections, but that does not assure him staying in power. Ibrahim Jaafari became premier in 2005 not because his Dawa party won the most votes, but because it was part of the largest bloc the United Iraqi Alliance. Maliki was named prime minister in 2006, because the U.S. and others had lost confidence in Jaafari with the escalating civil war. Again, his Dawa was not the largest party, but he was chosen within the United Alliance as a compromise candidate. In 2010 the Iraqi National Movement won the most seats, but thanks to the Supreme Court ruling Maliki was able to put together the largest coalition after the voting and win a 2nd term. Coming out victorious in 2014 was therefore an important step for Maliki, but not the final word. Immediately after the election it looked like he had the momentum, but then the insurgent summer offensive came and most of northern Iraq fell, and the prime minister’s star began to fall as more and more groups from Najaf to Iran added their voices calling for him to step down. This whole process still has minutes left on the clock, but they are counting down for Maliki.
Abbas, Mohammed, “Iraqi Shiite cleric tells AFP: PM Maliki must go,” Agence France Presse, 7/16/14
Abdul-Zahra, Qassim Salama, Vivian, “Talabani ally is Iraqi Kurds presidential choice,” Associated Press, 7/23/14
Associated Press, “Iraq elects new president as attacks kill dozens,” 7/24/14
- “Iraqi cleric urges leaders not to ‘cling’ to power,” 7/25/14
Buratha News, “After news of its withdrawal from the state of law coalition….Badr Organization declares its commitment to the decision of the National Alliance for the prime minister post,” 7/28/14
- “Ibrahim al-Jaafari:: National Alliance is the largest parliamentary bloc, not the rule of law we have all started and announced that,” 7/27/14
Independent Press Agency, “Bayraktar: deny the issuance of a new resolution concerning the largest parliamentary bloc,” 7/24/14
Al Mada, “Differences within Maliki’s bloc: Will the call bring together more than one candidate for premier?” 7/19/14
- “Liberals and the Council: our deal with al-Maliki to withdraw and his replacement a condition that has been accepted by National Alliance,” 7/17/14
Al Masalah, “Dawa Party renews its commitment under the guidance of reference and timings of the constitution on forming of government,” 7/26/14
- “State of Law: Maliki, the only candidate for prime minister,” 7/17/14
Visser, Reidar, “The Iraqi Parliament Elects Its New Speakership,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 7/15/14