Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Maliki Under Pressure as He Visits DC

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 23:59

As Nuri al-Maliki visits Washington today, he already seems to be under a lot more of pressure than only four months ago, when he was celebrating the quite spectacular success of his “State of Law” list in the January local elections.

Back then, he was involved in what seemed to be real efforts to establish a genuine cross-sectarian alliance with secularists and political movements in the Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, and was talking openly about reforming “weaknesses” of the 2005 constitution that were due to the “chaotic” environment in which it had been adopted. But then followed a string of high-level visits from Iran, heavy anti-Baathist rhetoric from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a spate of unexplained bombings in core Shiite areas, the election of Ayad al-Samarrai to the speakership of the parliament, and finally a visit to Baghdad by US Vice-president Joe Biden that seemed aimed at getting the Iraqis to once more think of themselves as three separate ethno-sectarian constituencies in need of American assistance to achieve some kind of grand political concord. And voila, these days Maliki is no longer talking about new alliances, but instead is focusing on refurbishing the Shiite sectarian alliance of the past, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). It was announced two days ago that the new and supposedly more “nationalist” UIA had agreed on its basic principles, but the identity of the signatories – the two Daawa branches, ISCI, the bloc of UIA independents, and, maybe, the Sadrists (some Sadrists dismiss this last bit) – emphatically suggests that this is old wine in new bottles.

Not exactly Hammurabi: Nation building courtesy of the US Army is both recession-prone and fragile. This photo shows Sons of Iraq leaders preparing payments for its members in March 2009, supposedly to achieve “greater inclusion of the Sunnis in the new Iraq”.

From the point of view of nation building, it will be a bad thing if Maliki’s leaves DC with the impression that all the outside world expects from him is a little bit more leniency when it comes to the integration of the Sons of Iraq militias (apparently Pentagon’s idée fixe in the area of national reconciliation), as well as a slightly less confrontational approach to the Kurds over Kirkuk (the only other constitutional issue which seems to command major attention in Washington these days). Together with all the other developments over the past few months, that kind of message from the US could easily turn Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary elections into a carbon copy of those which took place in a sectarian climate back in 2005.

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