Ousting Maliki, Maybe (Updated, Sunday, November 23, 2008)
My sources are telling me that serious efforts are underway to introduce a parliamentary no-confidence vote in Maliki’s government sometime in early December.
Supposedly the changes to the cabinet line-up would be minor, substituting Maliki for either Adel Abdel-Mahdi or Ibrahim al-Ja’afari or Ali al-Adeeb (…if Abdel-Mahdi gets it, then either of the other two candidates may take the vice-presidency slot vacated by him), and Hussein al-Shahrestani, the oil minister, for either Nadim al-Jaberi or Ali al-Adeeb (if the latter doesn’t become either the PM or the Vice-President, and conditional on him turning against Maliki, of course).
The thinking, especially from the Kurdish end, is that Maliki has grown too big for his britches. That, and Meghan O’Sullivan is back in the mix of things, forever trying to turn her guy, Abdel-Mahdi, into Mr. PM.
Technically, one would think that the Sunnis would not yield to a Kurdish-led bid to unseat Maliki, given the competition that’s been going on in Mosul and Kirkuk, but weakening an increasingly confident Shia prime minister (…who is trying to build an independent power base among Sunni tribes in Mosul and Kirkuk) is too enticing of a prospect; why putter around in the provinces when taking down Maliki makes Tariq al-Hashemi more politically relevant in Baghdad?
The Hakims want Maliki deflated. The Sadrists and Allawi will not throw him a lifeline. Taking out al-Sharestani weakens Sistani’s direct influence over the cabinet, a development several factions want to see happen. And the no-confidence plotters are aiming to win over al-Adeeb (with some Iranian prodding, it seems) with promises of a bigger role, thereby rupturing the Da’awa Party faction that Maliki now controls. They could also win over Fadhila (or at least the faction that al-Jaberi has managed to rebuild around himself), and the small but symbolic faction of the Da’awa that still shows up to Ja’afari’s dinners.
They may even get Allawi on board by giving him the Vice-Presidency slot, but it isn’t clear whether Allawi will see this as beneath him and reject it. But this would be a complete ejection of the Da’awa Party, in all its factions, from the nexus of alliances that govern Iraqi politics. Either way, Allawi will not cross Barzani.
The votes that may bring Maliki down are there. What saved his behind for the last two years has been the support of Hakim, Barzani and Talabani, or rather their disinterest in removing him after he accidentally became PM through the machinations of Sistani's office in 2006. But Maliki is now trying to project himself as a national leader, and has stepped on too many toes in the process.
Maliki is looking at a very dire picture, and he could do something bold like resigning before getting fired. His excuse for resigning would have something to do with rejecting “too much” federalism, supposedly a popular issue that Iraqi voters in 2009 may reward him for, and then he can come back with his own parliamentary bloc to rival that of those who ousted him.
However, his rivals are also preparing all sorts of things with which to smear him, especially regarding the corruption of his son, Ahmad, and other Maliki staffers.
Maliki derived a big part of his stature from the weekly teleconference he’s been holding with President Bush for the last year or so. That is over now. Maliki may have thought that he’d be the primary beneficiary from the power vacuum that shall be left behind as the Americans recede from Iraq under Obama. But Maliki may not last that long.
People forget that Maliki is not a very sophisticated player. His excessive caution, and occasional flashes of impetuousness, may be analyzed by some as wisdom, and political bravery. I supported what he did in Basra and Sadr City last March through May, because these actions strengthened the Iraqi state. But I still remember him for what he is, a decent man playing a role far too big for his wits.
UPDATE (November 23, 2008):
‘Usama al-Nujeifi, the MP from Allawi’s list, claims that the meeting held in Talabani’s house between the Kurdish bloc and several Arab Sunni blocs on Friday discussed the necessary mechanisms and alliances by which to bring down Maliki through a vote of no-confidence. Al-Nujeifi made these claims today to an Iraqi news wire agency (Arabic link).
This is only partly true: the no-confidence vote was not discussed during the public meeting, but it was certainly in the air.
I guess al-Nujeifi, an MP from Mosul who has been critical of the Kurds and thus implicitly supports Maliki, must have heard about the no-confidence vote from Allawi’s circle.
Al-Nujeifi claims that the Hakims are not on board fully even though they oppose Maliki’s attempts to consolidate power in his office. He also says that the attempt won’t be successful because Maliki enjoys strong popular support (correct) and strong support from the Americans (no longer correct).
Al-Nujeifi is hoping to muddy the waters by making this public statement, with the full intention of derailing the no-confidence vote. That’s wishful thinking on his part. The vocal MPs from Mosul such as himself and Izzeldin al-Dawla (who withdrew from the Consensus bloc over the summer) may support Maliki’s game of chicken with the Kurds, but they do not reflect the overall Sunni position.
A source is telling me that Maliki is counting on Sistani’s support to curb the Hakims from moving against him. But the Hakims are moving against him in a large measure to counter the resurrected influence of Sistani’s office (specifically that of the Grand Ayatollah’s son, Muhammad Ridha) that found its last hurrah (…in my opinion) when it was invited to weigh in on SOFA.
In a funny twist, Maliki is counting on Mowaffeq al-Rubai’i, his National Security Advisor, to convince the Americans to stick by him, but according to one well-placed source, al-Rubai’i has privately signaled, it is alleged, that “maybe Maliki has outlived his usefulness.”
In other news, a piece in the New York Times today caught my eye: James Glanz, a mediocre reporter in the opinion of this blog, writes up a puff piece on Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the sanctimonious and not-at-all helpful IG on Iraqi reconstruction, clearly as a favor for all the negative leaks that Bowen had sent Glanz’s way. But a name appears that seems to be out of place, that of “Namir al-Akabi”, who was referred to earlier on this blog under the spelling Namir Karim al-‘Uqabi. Al-‘Uqabi is a well-heeled multi-multi-millionaire, so why is he trudging around in the dust looking as if he’s an earnest, go-getting subcontractor at a minor construction site, in Ramadi of all places? Al-‘Uqabi is connected to Maliki’s office, and to Nadhmi Auchi, so why is he riding the coattails of Bowen’s positive spin? I think I know why, but I can’t publish it. I’m sure it will come out in good time.