Sooner or later, it was bound to happen: Grassroots elements in the secular and traditionally Iraqi nationalist Iraqiyya would feel unhappy about the ever more intimate ties between their own leadership and the Kurds.
In an unprecedented expression of dissatisfaction with the course of Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, no less than 19 parliamentary deputies that are either part of Iraqiyya or have recently defected from it expressed their support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki yesterday by signing a declaration of solidarity with his policies towards the Kurds. The declaration criticizes the current political crisis for being fabricated and alleges that accusations about “dictatorship” should more properly be addressed to Kurdish leader Masud Barzani, who has ruled for several decades. The highhandedness of Kurdish security forces (peshmerga) and secret police (asayish) in disputed territories in northern Iraq is highlighted as an area of particular concern.
It is worthwhile taking a look at the identity of the signatories. Almost all of them are Sunnis from various parts of northern Iraq, including Kirkuk, Nineveh and Anbar. In terms of bloc affiliations, most are either from the recent blocs of Iraqiyya defectors (Free Iraqiyya & Wataniyun) or belonging to small lists. But it is noteworthy that there are also a couple of deputies from the Hiwar bloc of deputy PM Salih al-Mutlak and the Hall bloc of Jamal al-Karbuli. Historically, the Kirkuk issue is something that tends to bring Iraqi Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Turkmens together in opposition against Kurdish plans for annexing the city, as was evidenced by the 22 July trend back in 2008. However, thanks in part to US opposition, Maliki failed to mobilise on Kirkuk during the debate of the election law in autumn 2009 and has remained relatively aloof from the situation there until quite recently.
Importantly, no less than 12 of these 19 Maliki supporters are still technically reckoned as belonging to Iraqiyya. That, in turn, has implications for the arithmetical exercises being carried out these days about a possible no confidence vote in Maliki. What this means in practice is that Iraqiyya can probably muster no more than a maximum 75 votes in parliament from its own ranks for an anti-Maliki vote – and that is the absolute maximum given the poor track record of many Iraqiyya MPs in terms of parliamentary attendance. In other words, even if the 40 or so Sadrists deputies should after all go all the way and join the Maliki critics in a move to sack him (a big if), there would be trouble garnering the required 163 deputies needed for an absolute majority (the Kurds command somewhere between 43 and 57 votes, depending on the position of independents and minorities).
Meanwhile, from Beirut, following rumours about a possible rapprochement with Maliki, Mutlak himself cannot quite seem to make up his mind whether he truly does regard the Iraqi prime minister as a “dictator” or not. Maybe he and other Iraqiyya leaders should spend less time making statements from locations far away from Baghdad and instead spend some more time with their constituencies in northern Iraq. If not, they themselves – rather than Maliki – may end up as the main casualty of their current campaign to unseat him.