Since the beginning of 2010 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to mend fences with the Kurdish Alliance, opening the door to a possible coalition with them after the March elections. In January, Maliki began talking about allowing the Kurds to re-start oil exports that were halted in October 2009 because Baghdad would not pay the companies doing the work. The issue of who has the right to explore, develop, and sell petroleum is one of the largest disputes between the central government and Kurdistan. Then on February 1 Aswat al-Iraq reported that the Prime Minister had issued orders to allow the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to determine who has access to disputed areas. This was a major change from 2008 when Maliki challenged the Kurds in those exact same territories by moving in government forces into Diyala, Tamim, and Ninewa provinces leading to several confrontations.At that time, the Prime Minister said that the federal government should have control of security in all areas of Iraq. Acknowledging the KRG’s authority is a major reversal, and shows that Maliki is moving away from his nationalist agenda. Finally, on February 2, a member of Maliki’s State of Law List said that if they get a majority of votes in the March election they would join with the Kurdish Alliance afterward to run the country. The member mentioned that Iraq needed a consensus government, which necessitated the Kurds being included in any new government. This marked another major difference from Maliki’s previous statements when he said in mid-2009 that Iraq should have majority rule, even if that angered the Sunnis and Kurds. He went on to say that sectarian quotas in the government were no longer needed. Those ideas now appear to be dead.
All of these statements by Maliki and his State of Law List are major concessions to the Kurds. Since they are the opposite from what the Prime Minister talked about previously, they would appear to be out of desperation. Maliki was riding high after the January 2009 provincial elections. He won pluralities across the south and Baghdad by running on Iraqi nationalism and security. Since then, his standing has dropped. First, he was not able to draw in any new major parties to his State of Law List before the 2010 vote. Second, the massive bombings in Baghdad beginning in August 2009 have led Iraqis to question whether he has truly secured the country or not. Third, his coalition has not accomplished much since taking over the provincial councils. Last, he has turned to sectarian politics by warning of a Baathist return. At best, Maliki is looking at winning the largest plurality in this year’s vote, at worse he could finish behind his former Shiite partners the Iraqi National Alliance, which he refused to join. Either way, he’ll have to find friends after the balloting to try to form a new coalition, and that’s where his latest comments about the Kurds come in. Maliki needs their large bloc in parliament if he wants to remain prime minister, and he’s been willing to jettison much of his nationalist rhetoric to win them over. Only time will tell whether these new tactics will accomplish Maliki’s goal of holding onto power. It will also be interesting to see whether he actually follows through on any of these promises to the Kurds if he retains his position as Maliki made it clear in 2008 that he’s willing to turn on anyone to increase his influence. This is just the latest example of the Byzantine politics of Iraq where the unexpected always seems to happen.
AK News, “Shiites may form coalition with Kurds to seek win majority,” 2/2/10
Aswat al-Iraq, “PM coordinates with Kurds regarding disputed areas,” 2/1/10
Dagher, Sam, “Incremental Steps in Iraq to Let Kurdistan Oil Flow,” New York Times, 2/1/10
Lawrence, Quil, “A precarious peace in Northern Iraq,” The Middle East Research and Information Project, 10/1/09
Reuters, “Shi’ite Maliki calls for majority rule in Iraq,” 5/15/09
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