Maliki eyes Iraq’s premiership again despite declining fortunes

Asked why he sees himself as a suitable candidate to lead the country again, Maliki said, “Whoever praises us now follows the old saying: ‘try someone else to know how good I was.’”

Tuesday 23/02/2021
A file picture shows former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, centre, arriving at the parliament building, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
A file picture shows former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, centre, arriving at the parliament building, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)

BAGHDAD – Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki expressed his ambition to lead Iraq again despite the severe decline in his popularity.

Maliki’s two terms as head of government from 2006-2014 were catastrophic for the country, with the state seeing a major decline at various economic, social and security levels.

Corruption, during Maliki’s premiership, reached unprecedented highs, and hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue was wasted. The two mandates then ended in disaster, with ISIS controlling about a third of the country’s territory.

Maliki, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party who lost the premiership following 2014 elections, criticised the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and presented himself as the best candidate to lead the country in the future.

Claiming a “relation of understanding” with US President Joe Biden, Maliki offered to mediate between Tehran and Washington to ease their differences on the nuclear deal and the severe economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States.

Observers of Iraqi affairs ruled out that Maliki, whose political status has declined locally, would be capable of mediating a thorny international dispute, considering that his statements were just part of an early election campaign.

Over the last few weeks, early campaigning began in Iraq, with many Shia political figures issuing statements to appeal to the public ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next October.

However, many Iraqis are growing increasingly sceptical about the upcoming parliamentary elections, which they do not view as an efficient tool to change the country’s poor conditions.

Such scepticism is the fruit of successive indications of political stagnation that have led to the same climate and conditions that prompted previous elections and which have allowed the same political forces that have ruled Iraq since the US invasion to retain power. These forces, Iraqis believe, have monopolised power despite utterly failing to lead and reform state institutions.

In recent weeks, the spectre of foreign interference has begun to haunt elections scheduled for October, at a time when dozens of political parties and electoral alliances are rushing to form, without clear programmes or logical foundations for partnership.

The newly formed parties and alliances have been racing to register for the elections, giving the public the impression that they are unprofessional. The trend has also split the vote, again opening the door for big parties and their alliances to win a majority of votes like in the past four elections.

Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said that he would run in the October elections with the aim of achieving an overwhelming victory, while Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Wisdom Movement that had split from the Islamic Supreme Council, began to re-promote his project, which he says is a “national project” that is inclusive and cross-sectarian.

Like the two Shia leaders, Maliki sought to promote his candidacy in statements made to Al-Ghadeer satellite channel, affiliated with the Badr militia led by Hadi al-Amiri.

Maliki claimed he is qualified to take over the premiership again, stressing that he will “fight” if he wins “in the most difficult circumstances to help Iraq.”

Maliki also attacked Kadhimi, saying that his government is unconstitutional, deeply defective and in disagreement with political forces.

He criticised the approval of a new electoral law, saying that “it should not have been passed,” considering that holding elections in the current circumstances would result in “a fragmented parliament in the absence of large blocs capable of decision making.” The large blocs Maliki referred to are the same blocs that Iraqi protesters have been hoping to remove from power over their poor management of the country’s affairs over the past 17 years.

The leader of the Dawa Party did not overlook the statements of his rival, Sadr, in which he expected his movement to have the ability to achieve a great victory in the upcoming elections, which would allow Sadrists to form the next government.

Without naming Sadr, with whom he has tense relations, Maliki said that he advises “everyone to drop their calculations of victory and loss and leave the management of the country’s affairs to those who are capable of finding solutions.”

Asked why he sees himself as a suitable candidate to lead the country again, Maliki said, “Whoever praises us now follows the old saying: ‘try someone else to know how good I was.’”

Iraqis acknowledge that the country is still living in poor conditions and is facing security, economic and social crises under Kadhimi’s government, which came as an alternative to the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi that was ousted by massive protests.

Iraqis, however, know that the current situation is the result of problems that accumulated during the previous period, especially during the rule of Maliki, relatively the longest since the 2003 invasion.