BAGHDAD (IPS) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing ties with Iran have triggered a splintering of his government.
Several groups, both Sunni and Shi’a, 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 Shi’a 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 Shi’a-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 the Shi’a.
Maliki is under growing pressure over policies seen to be in line with what the government of Shi’a-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 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 Shi’a 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 Shi’a 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?” asked 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.”
In other news this week, the “New York Times” reported that “the United Nations is to return kicking and screaming to Iraq under an internationally-approved plan for it to have an expanded political role in support of the Iraqi government.
“The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the U.N. to return to Iraq almost four years to the day that it pulled out most of its staff after a deadly car bomb that killed its envoy.
“Many believe the resolution, co-sponsored by the U.S. and Britain, will provide a fig-leaf, if needed, to cover a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq in the coming months, and pick up the pieces afterwards. The U.S. and Britain deny any such intention.
“U.N. staff were abruptly evacuated from Iraq after the killing of senior representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other people in August 2003. The attack had a traumatic effect on the organization’s staff, which remains concerned about security problems in the nation.
“The U.N.’s return is so controversial that its staff association called on the U.N. secretary-general, Ban ki-Moon, to withdraw the 35 international employees who are still operating in Iraq and not to deploy any more.
“But the secretary-general has promised President George Bush to raise the number of U.N. staff to 95 by October.
“The resolution provides for the U.N. to advise, support and assist the government and people of Iraq on advancing their inclusive, political dialogue and national reconciliation.
“It also authorizes the U.N. to marshal regional and international support for Iraq, by facilitating regional dialogue, including on issues of border security, energy and refugees.
“The organization is also asked to help facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of the two million refugees who have fled the country for Syria and Jordan. The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, expressed the hope that the resolution, backed by countries such as Russia and France which were opposed to the 2003 invasion, would be a springboard to greater international support for Iraqs government and people.
“The resolution has been adopted at a time when Bush is under mounting political pressure to agree to a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops, as his much-heralded surge of 20,000 additional soldiers has failed to gain control of Baghdad.”