Friday, August 14, 2009

Not So Fast On A New United Iraqi Alliance

As reported before, the major Shiite parties including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, with ample support from Iran, have agreed in principle to reform the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The UIA was the major vote getter in the 2005 elections, but has since broken apart. The announcement of the new UIA line-up has been delayed several times, most recently August 13, 2009. Officially, members of the Dawa party say there are three holds ups. First, Dawa is asking for more parties to be added to the list. Second, Members of the UIA want it to be a Shiite coalition first and foremost, while Dawa disagrees. Last, there is a debate about how parliamentary seats will be awarded within the alliance. The real reason, as always is what role Prime Minister Maliki will play.

Maliki’s greatest desire is to maintain his position as prime minister, which is why he agreed to rejoin the UIA after forming his own State of Law List for the 2009 provincial elections. According to Nibras Kazimi of the Hudson Institute, Maliki wants to be assured that he will be the only UIA candidate for prime minister. The problem is the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) only want to ride Maliki’s coattails back into power and then drop him. There are rumors that Interior Minister Jawad Bolani of the Constitution Party may be an alternative candidate within the alliance to Maliki. His other possible rival, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi of the SIIC, has been politically wounded by members of his security detail robbing the Rafidain Bank, one of the three largest in the country. Bolani and Mahdi are also political rivals, and the Interior Minister has been trying to take credit for the arrests, while implicating the Vice President. Maliki has joined the fray as well saying that Mahdi’s office has turned over the stolen money, but not the guards involved in the heist.

If Maliki does not get the nod for prime minister from the UIA, he is threatening to run alone. Sheikh Abu Risha of the Anbar Awakening has consistently said that he wants to run with Maliki in 2010. Maliki also recently gave a speech in Anbar to tribal sheikhs where he praised their work, called for Iraqi nationalism, and an end to sectarian politics. Other possible allies mentioned are Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Ghafoor Samarraei who runs a series of Sunni mosques, and parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq, who Maliki courted after the 2009 elections. Running with independent Sunnis like these would fit Maliki’s rhetoric of forming a truly nationalist and cross-sectarian alliance, something he promised after the provincial elections but failed to follow through on.

Either way Maliki decides to go he may have found himself caught in a Catch-22. If he runs with the United Iraqi Alliance he will be taking a step backwards in Iraqi politics, and will be accused of returning to sectarianism after promoting nationalism. On the other hand, if he chooses to run his own list, and brings in Sunnis he will be accused of collaborating with Baathists, something that still resonates with the Shiite public. The Prime Minister actually tried to reach out to former regime elements after the provincial elections, but was forced to back off because of constant attacks of trying to bring back the Baath party. Maliki’s negotiations also show that his ultimate goal is holding onto power, and he will use anything, nationalism, sectarianism, etc. to maintain his position.


Alsumaria, “Bank robbers not handed over yet Maliki says,” 8/11/09
- “Iraq’s new coalition on the agenda,” 8/13/09
- “New Unified Iraqi Coalition put off,” 8/8/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Baath should not be allowed in Iraq – Hakim,” 3/14/09
- “Sunni leader envisions alliance with Maliki in next polls,” 7/26/09

August, Oliver, “Iraq bank robbers were Vice-President’s security guards, police say,” Times of London, 8/3/09

Dagher, Sam, “Arrests in Bank Robbery Create a Rift Between Iraqi Officials,” New York Times, 8/3/09

Kazimi, Nibras, “Catching Up on Iraq Stuff,” Talisman Gate Blog, 8/13/09
- “Iraq: Rumors Swirl,” Hudson Institute, 8/6/09
- “Iraq: Trouble for Maliki,” Hudson New York, 4/24/09

Parker, Ned, “Maliki remakes himself ahead of elections,” Los Angeles Times, 7/21/09

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iraq Shi’ite alliance may split, other allies eyed,” Reuters, 8/7/09

Visser, Reidar, “Maliki Under Pressure as He Visits DC,”, 7/21/09


Abu Jalapa said...

Joel, I came across your blog recently while doing research for a prominent DC think tank and think you have a good take on Iraqi politics. I've also been researching extensively the reformation of the UIA. Check out this article in today's Asharq al-Awsat.
According to the article, those close to Hakim think Maliki is bluffing when he talks about how he wants to move on from UIA and run with other more nationalist Sunnis. I agree with you in that I think Maliki will end up doing what maximizes his personal authority. I've always said that if Maliki decides to eschew the UIA for a cross-sectarian alliance, it is not about political reconciliation but rather about Maliki finding a different vehicle to enhance his personal authority. Such is the pattern of Iraqi politics since the mandate period. This article also mentions that Hamid al-Hais, chief of the Anbar Salvation Council, decided to join the new coalition, which is being called the National Iraqi Coalition in order to put a nationalist face on it. I am skeptical that the likes of Hakim and co. are suddenly Iraqi nationalists. But isn't al-Hais a rival of Abu Risha, who has indicated his willingness to team up with Maliki? If that's the case, this would make sense. Anywaym just interested on your thoughts on this article.

Joel Wing said...

Don't read Arabic so can't read the article! Sorry. Sheikh Hayes is a rival of Abu Risha.

Here's a little background to all 3 of the prominent Anbar sheikhs in the Awakening:

Hayes is one of the biggest blowhards in Iraq and use to regularly talk about taking up arms and kicking out the Islamic Party when they ran Anbar. If he did decide to join the United Alliance I wouldn't be surprised. He turned up at a Sadrist rally in April 09.


All 3 of the sheikhs, Abu Risha, Hayes and Sulaiman I think are angling for national leadership of the Sunnis, which is their motivation to ally with the Shiite parties and get seats in any new government in Baghdad.

Finally, I agree, Maliki is all about keeping power. I was surprised he even talked about rejoining the UIA for the 2010 vote, but it's the only way he can get the largest plurality of votes to remain Prime Minister. In 2009 he only won majorities in Baghdad and Basra and pluralities in the rest of the south, and even got out maneuvered by the SIIC in one. The SIIC came in second in most of the south, so if they ran together in the UIA he'd probably get a majority in those.

I don't know if you read Nibras Kazimi's Talisman Gate blog from the Hudson Institute but he's been consistently arguing that Maliki is screwed. He thinks that the Kurds will be the swing votes in any new coalition and they want Maliki out. I think that's a possibility, but Maliki is sly and may give them some major concession to bring them along. I think that's the reason why he just went to Kurdistan. He can always turn on them as he's done others, see Sadrists, after he's re-elected!

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