BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing ties with Iran have triggered a splintering of his government.
Several groups, both Sunni and Shia, have followed the Sunni al-Tawafuq bloc (Iraqi Accord Front) in quitting the U.S.-backed government. But Maliki refuses to make the concessions necessary to bring his “unity” government back together.
Spokesman Iyad Jamaliddin said on behalf of the Iraqi National List led by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi that the ministers of his group would now boycott government meetings. The party claims both Shia and Sunni following.
“We will inform the President, his deputies and the Prime Minister of the essential happenings and needs (of Iraqis) when necessary,” Jamaliddin told IPS in Baghdad.
This means that the entire Sunni bloc has refused to deal with Maliki. The al-Tawafuq bloc has 44 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, and Allawi’s group 25. Their decision cannot unsettle the ruling Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance that has 128 seats and rules with the support of some small groups, but it would further deny the government legitimacy in the face of widespread perceptions that the government follows sectarian policies in support of Shias.
Maliki is under growing pressure over policies seen to be in line with what the government of Shia-dominated Iran wants. Following Maliki’s visit to Tehran last week, U.S. President George Bush sternly warned him against coming too close to Iran.
Bush said that after the visit, “if the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the Prime Minister, because I don’t believe they are constructive.”
Bush added, “My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay.”
On his visit Aug. 8, Maliki thanked Iran for its “positive and constructive” work in “providing security and fighting terrorism in Iraq.” Iran in turn offered Maliki its full support for restoring security, but told him that a pullout of U.S. forces was the only way to end the ongoing violence.
But Maliki’s government has continued to lose support within Iraq. Now Kurdish members of Maliki’s government are also condemning his ailing leadership. Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish member of the Assembly, has said that the situation is “too bad to be left as it is” and that something must change.
“I do not represent the whole Kurdish bloc, but as an MP who represents himself and those who voted for him, I say this government is suffering a great deal of problems with everyone, including Kurds,” Othman told IPS in Baghdad. “It failed to find solutions to many Kurdish affairs like article 140 of the constitution concerning Kirkuk, the oil law and many other things.”
Maliki’s visited Iran on the date on which former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein declared victory in his war with Iran.
“If the visit were meant to be on that date intentionally, then it would be a terrible mistake by Maliki,” Nadim al-Jaburi, general secretary of the Shia al-Fadhila Party that was part of the ruling coalition until its withdrawal from the government in March told IPS. “I am sure Iranians would not have visited Iraq on that date. If it was coincidence, then it only shows how inconsiderate Maliki is about our country.”
Others too had misgivings about Maliki’s visit to Tehran. “Maliki is Iranian and he went there to show his solidarity with his own people,” Majid Hamid, a lawyer from Baghdad told IPS. “He has no self-respect and no consideration for the history of his country that was once at war with Iran.”
Maliki is secretary-general of the Dawa Party, and spent time in exile in Iran after leading insurgent groups against Saddam Hussein.
“It is a last attempt to get support from his masters in Iran,” Abdul-Hussien Ali, a teacher from the predominantly Shia district of Kadhimiya in northern Baghdad told IPS. “Iran killed nearly a million Iraqis in that war, and now our so-called Prime Minister is supporting them on the very day they officially lost the war.”
Many Iraqis ask why Bush continues to support the failing Prime Minister. “Why is that Bush so fond of this finished government,” said Yassin Jassim, a shopkeeper in Baghdad. “The government is finished by failing to provide us with security and all other daily essential needs. This means that Bush has also failed.”
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)