Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been a superb strategist when it comes to his rivals. He has consistently outplayed all of the other major lists since the March 2010 parliamentary elections, starting with remaining premier despite his State of Law coming in second to the Iraqi National Movement (INM). He is now challenging Speaker Osama Nujafi, who is part of the INM. The Speaker has both criticized Maliki, and tried to work with him. Recently, Nujafi joined a group of opposition leaders that issued an ultimatum to Maliki to either start cooperating with the other members of the coalition government or face a no confidence vote. The prime minister is now responding in kind by holding a cabinet session in the Speaker’s base, Ninewa province.
|Ninewa province (PRT)|
At the end of May 2012, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the cabinet will hold a meeting in Ninewa’s provincial capital of Mosul. It is supposed to deal with services and corruption, but the real focus will be the premier’s rivals. He recently held a cabinet session in Kirkuk meant to highlight the differences between the Iraqi National Movement (INM) and the Kurdish Coalition, which are now cooperating against him, but ran against each other in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Maliki is likely to take the same tact in Mosul, since it is the home province of Speaker Osama Nujafi, and his brother Atheel who is the governor there. Like Kirkuk, the governorate includes disputed territories, which the Kurds wish to annex, but the Nujafis are opposed to. In fact, in the parliamentary elections, Speaker Nujafi was considered anti-Kurdish for his stance. Until recently, the Kurdish parties were boycotting the provincial council in Ninewa, because they were so opposed to the Nujafis, and Atheel’s al-Hadbaa Party that won in the 2009 provincial balloting, and took all of the local offices. Those differences have been swept under the rug, because both lists now want to limit Maliki’s power. The premier will try to bring all of them up during his visit to Mosul.
|The April 2012 meeting of Maliki opponents in Irbil (from left to right) Speaker Nujafi, Kurdistan Pres. Barzani, Iraqi President Talabani, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iyad Allawi (Kurdiu.org)|
The Ninewa meeting came in response to the maneuvers of the Iraqi National Movement, the Kurdish Coalition, and Moqtada al-Sadr. In mid-May, Sadr, Speaker Nujafi, and various leaders from the INM and Kurdish Coalition met in Najaf where they gave the Sadrist-Supreme Council led National Alliance a deadline to replace Maliki if he didn’t implement a real power sharing government. Before that, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and Speaker Nujafi met in Irbil where they also issued an ultimatum to Maliki. Nujafi himself remarked that this was a last chance for the prime minister to either work with the other major lists or lose power. The National Movement has been making threats like these for months, but in the new year the Kurdish Coalition and the Sadrists have joined it. They have leveled a non-stop barrage of disparaging remarks against Maliki for centralizing power, and not including others in decisions. The problem for them is that this has all been words, as they do not have the votes in parliament to hold a successful no confidence vote against Maliki. The prime minister knows this, and has rebuffed all their demands, while countering with a series of his own moves such as going to Kirkuk, and now heading for Mosul.
This is not the first time that the prime minister has gone after Nujafi either. Back in April 2011, State of Law was talking about impeaching him. They claimed that the Speaker was biased, and not doing his job. State of Law didn’t have the votes in parliament to do anything, but it was meant to pressure Nujafi after he became critical of Maliki over his handling of the protest movement. That’s what is happening now with the announced trip to Mosul.
Even though Osama Nujafi is currently Maliki’s target of choice, the Speaker had previously taken a dual approach towards him. On the one hand, he was critical of Maliki’s administration. At the beginning of 2011, Nujafi tried to appropriate the demands of the protest movement that emerged then, by demanding that the ministers and the prime minister perform better, and threatened to replace any that didn’t. He then criticized the government’s crackdown on the demonstrators. At the end of last year, Nujafi then pushed for provincial autonomy as a way to limit Maliki’s concentration of power in Baghdad. At the same time, Nujafi has shown a willingness to work with the prime minister. When his National Movement was boycotting the cabinet and parliament in January 2012, Nujafi was one of the few who opposed the move, and continued to attend the legislature. When the INM started talking about a no confidence vote against Maliki, the Speaker was against that idea as well, because his list didn’t have the votes to pull it off. All together, Nujafi was one of the least confrontational National Movement leaders. While he took his shots at Maliki, he was still willing to work with him, and saw the folly of some of the INM’s threats, and was unwilling to go along with them. The decision of Moqtada al-Sadr to become a critic of the prime minister when before he was his greatest supporter, could have been behind Nujafi’s recent decision to be more vocal in his opposition to Maliki. If the Sadrists were actually willing to commit to joining the INM and Kurds, it could finally bring enough to bear on the prime minister to change his ways.
The prime minister heading for Mosul is just the latest act of political theater, which has gripped Iraq since the 2010 elections. Maliki and his opponents have gone back and forth over his administration. The problem is that his critics have been fractious at best, which has allowed Maliki to play upon their divisions. He hopes to do that once again by travelling to Ninewa with the cabinet where he is likely to play on the differences between Speaker Nujafi’s base and the Kurds. The relationship between Maliki and Nujafi however, has not been as rocky as with other members of the Iraqi National Movement. That means that once they are over this current row, the two will likely go back to working together as they did in the not too distant past.
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