With Iraq’s “unity” government already looking shaky and a good chance of the largest member, the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Party looking to bail out, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to need the support of the Shi’ite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) more than ever.
Yet it seems that Maliki is playing fast and loose with the INA bloc’s largest member, the Sadrist Trend, in backing off his previous statements ruling out US troops remaining in the country.
This could set up a major power struggle between the two largest Shi’ite political blocs in the country, and against their leaders, with the future of Iraq as well as the prospect of a continued US occupation at stake.
Maliki’s comments are being seen as a direct challenge to Sadr, who has ruled out the continued US presence. Sadr has threatened a return to insurgency if the US troops remain. Maliki is either trying to call his bluff or betting that the security forces, which he has retained direct control over, can crush a Shi’ite uprising.
The loss of the INA would also inevitably mean the loss of a majority government, as Iraqiya is almost certain to follow in an attempt to form a new, Maliki-less government.