Faced with the loss of his majority in parliament and growing anger in the opposition, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected the idea of reconciling, insisting that anyone who withdraws from his coalition must also “withdraw permanently from the state and all its institutions.”
Maliki lost the largest bloc, the secular Iraqiya bloc, after he ordered Vice President Tareq Hashemi arrested as a “terrorist.” Hashemi has gone into hiding in Kurdistan, and the Kurdish blocs have also withdrawn from the coalition to protest the attempted arrest.
Iraqiya’s leader, Ayad Allawi, has warned that Maliki is acting more and more like Saddam Hussein in his treatment of political rivals, and that arrests on claims of “terrorism” are an old policy. Iraqi state TV has been broadcasting confessions from detained Heshemi bodyguards claiming they were launching terrorist attacks.
Normally the fall of a coalition government in a parliamentary system would move Maliki into the role of “interim prime minister” until a new majority could be cobbled together and, failing that, new elections would be called. Maliki has given no indication that this will be the case, however, and with his centralization of control over the military and the national police it is unclear if anyone could remove him from power if he decides to stay.
Iraqiya, which actually beat Maliki’s State of Law Party in the last elections, is reported to be trying to cobble together a majority, with Kurdish support. Though this is theoretically possible the last election led to months of “interim government” with no bloc able to form a majority until the US and Iranian officials both pressed their allies within the government to agree on keeping Maliki in power. Both appeared to believe Maliki would be on their side, but it is becoming increasingly clear that his agenda is about centralization of power, not placating a foreign ally.
Iraqiya has even taken the rather surprising step of calling on the National Alliance, the other Shi’ite political bloc, to nominate a replacement for Maliki. Iraqiya’s statement says that it is necessary to form a “post-occupation government” to prevent a new dictatorship.
At the moment, however, any nominee would immediately find himself on the prime minister’s enemies list. In the mean time Maliki’s statements on the matter center of demanding the Kurdistan Regional Government turn over Hashemi. Since the KRG controls the only significant fighting force not under Maliki’s direct command, the Peshmearga, the Maliki government would not be able to forcibly take him without considerable effort, and with the risk of sparking a full scale civil war.
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