Maliki and Abadi squabble over who will rule Iraq

Sunday 04/06/2017

While Iraqis do not know whether there will be local elections in September, the fat cats of the ruling Shia Islamist coalition are eyeing each other to see who might get the largest share of the vote. Whoever wins will seek to definitively force his adversary into the political wilderness.

Here, I am of course referring to former prime minister and current Vice-President Nuri al-Maliki and incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Although both hail from the pro-Tehran Dawa Party and were groomed within the same Iranian-created primordial soup of religious fanaticism, they have been at each other’s throats since Abadi replaced Maliki as prime minister in 2014.

Maliki resents Abadi, seeing him as a usurper who forced him out of office in what many deem to be an agreement between Washington and Tehran to replace the hyper-sectarian Shia Islamist Maliki. However, Maliki only has himself to blame for being sidelined by the United States and Iran in favour of a more “accept­able” Shia Islamist face.

Maliki’s policies led to the marginalisation of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, as well as a disproportion­ate number of them being targeted for arrests, torture and assassination. That has been blamed for the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS). Actions such as those in Hawija, where Iraqi forces massacred dozens of unarmed protesters in 2013, made it very clear to all that Maliki was a sectarian tyrant.

Although he was removed from office, he maintained control over the influential State of Law coalition, a major component of the National Alliance bloc that controls the majority of seats in the Iraqi legislature. Maliki used his parliamentary influence to cripple the passage of any laws Abadi proposed, including anti-corruption reforms.

Knowing that Maliki was, in essence, a violent kleptocrat, Abadi attempted to pare back his power through anti-graft meas­ures, only to be foiled by Maliki’s sheer voting power. The power structures of nepotism, corrup­tion and embezzlement sustain the Iraqi government and its crumbling institutions. Near the centre of that web lies Maliki, taking his share of a multibillion-dollar racket.

Now, the vice-president is insisting that local elections go ahead this September while others, including Abadi’s allies, attempt to stall the vote until the Independent High Electoral Commission can be changed. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has recently said he would back Abadi’s bid for another term in office and has been one of the main driving forces behind changing the commission, blaming it for committing voter fraud in favour of Maliki and groups aligned to him.

Meanwhile, Maliki has joined forces with the factions that comprise the Popular Mobilisa­tion Forces (PMF) and the electoral commission has declared that it had validated the infamously sectarian Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia — and a key component of the PMF — to contest elections as a formal political party.

While AAH is seen as being close to Maliki, which should cause concern for Abadi, the prime minister has been making moves to curry favour with the Shia jihadists. Abadi has given the PMF a freer hand in how it operates west of Mosul and the militants have been moving on areas close to the Syrian border on Iranian orders. A report by the British newspaper the Guardian stated this is so that Iran can develop its land bridge from Tehran to Latakia in Syria.

It is unsurprising that Maliki would seek favour with extremist groups close to Iran. However, what is surprising to many — but certainly not to keen Iraq observ­ers — is that Abadi is adopting much the same tactics just to counter his adversary.

Whoever wins this personal power struggle, the result will be the same — an extension and furtherance of Shia fundamental­ism in Iraq and yet another step towards the country becoming something akin to Iran’s theoc­racy.