Analysing Al-Maliki: Could Iraqi PM's Lurch From One Crisis To Another Be Deliberate?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be blundering from one political crisis to another. But is he really blundering? Some of his critics are starting to suspect it's a tactic to cause conflict and conquer, or possibly, to delay upcoming elections because he knows he is so unpopular.
The Iraqi government is facing not just one serious crisis but several. In less than a month the way that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reacted to various disputes in the country has unleashed a series of crises. He has passed a national budget that is unacceptable to many including the Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi oil producers, he has angered the heads of a number of provinces and sparked violent clashes in Sunni Muslim provinces by dispersing demonstrations in Anbar.
To many, it seems that al-Maliki believes that the best way to respond to these crises is just to create another.
“The 'creation of crises' really is the best description of the political situation in Iraq over the past four years,” Ninawa's governor, Sunni Muslim politician Atheel al-Nujaifi, told NIQASH. “It's brought the country to the brink of civil war more than once. I believe that the Iraqi people cannot cope with any more crises – especially because there really is no clear strategy for the future that might give them even a little hope.”
On January 15, al-Maliki's senior ministers approved a draft of the country's budget for 2014. However it's potential passage through parliament looks tricky – as various groups within parliament are already very upset about what the budget contains.
Only a few days after the draft budget was approved, several provinces, with mostly Shiite Muslim populations, said they would be taking their Prime Minister to court. This was because the budget said that oil-producing provinces should get US$1 for every barrel of oil they produced – almost all of Iraq's national income comes from oil production and Article 44 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that, besides part of the federal budget, fees or fines and tax revenues, each province gets a percentage from any barrel of oil that is either produced or refined there; a similar stipulation exists regarding the production of natural gas. However the US$1 share differs significantly from recent amendments to a law on how much power and funds the various Iraqi provinces should have, that were passed in 2013.
Amendments should have increased the percentage of money each oil-producing province got to US$5 per barrel and US$5 for every 150 cubic meters of natural gas produced. In Basra alone this would have amounted to the largest share the province had ever had of the national budget.
On January 25, representatives of eight provinces met in Basra – they came from Basra, Kirkuk, Misan, Salahaddin, Dhi Qar, Ninawa, Baghdad and Wasit – and announced that they were ready to challenge al-Maliki unless the budget was changed to fit in with amendments to the provincial powers law made last year.
“We will not give up on this challenge,” Basra's new governor, Majid al-Nasrawi, told NIQASH. “As oil producing provinces we will have to cut off the supply and organize our own demonstrations. Or we will demand the formation of regions.”
The formation of more semi-independent regions in Iraq is not an idea that is particularly welcomed by al-Maliki and many others as it is seen as a step toward the division of a Iraq and a failure of his policies over the past eight years.
There was another problem with the draft budget too. Iraqi Kurdish politicians were also opposed to it because it said nothing about the past two years of wrangling over exactly how much oil money the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan is owed. This is part of the reason why the Iraqi Kurdish seem to remain undaunted about their stated plans to export and sell oil independently to Turkey.
Previous to all of that, in late December 2013 al-Maliki also decided to disperse long-running, anti-government demonstrations in Anbar province, most of which involved Sunni Muslims from the area who felt they had been sidelined and unfairly treated by the government because of their sect. Al-Maliki is a Shiite Muslim leading a mostly Shiite Muslim ruling coalition. After the demonstrations, which were mostly peaceful, were dispersed with some violence, many of the locals involved felt they had no alternative but to take up arms against the government; the conflict is still ongoing.
In Baghdad Sunni Muslim MPs reacted to these events in Anbar by choosing to boycott parliamentary proceedings.
So how did al-Maliki deal with all of these crises?
Al-Maliki told Sunni Muslims they needed to get rid of the terrorists in their midst (in Anbar) before they could reasonably expect any other concessions from the government. If Iraq's Sunni muslims did not help to expel the alleged terrorists in their midst, they could reasonably be seen as aiding and abetting them, al-Maliki said. And this new armed crisis seems to have wiped Iraq's Sunni Muslims previous demands – the ones they were demonstrating for – out of their minds. For the time being anyway.
His government also accused the Iraqi Kurdish of “smuggling” oil and also threatened Turkey with legal sanctions, saying they would boycott all Turkish companies working in the the country if Turkey accepted the oil from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Last week, he and his Cabinet also decided on the formation of a variety of new provinces. LINK
The planned formation of new provinces has sewn seeds of dissent inside provinces that wanted to protest about their share of oil revenues as outlined in the draft budget for 2014. Some locals were keen on becoming a province and others were not. The end result is that officials inside a number of provinces, who had wanted to protest the 2014 draft budget, are now arguing among themselves about whether they should become a province or not.
The current state of crisis inside Iraq means that the holding of federal elections in April is starting to look uncertain. This has led many of al-Maliki's critics to accuse the Prime Minister of deliberately creating this string of crises in order to justify postponing elections, the first to be held in the country after the US military pulled out. Al-Maliki is seeking a third term in power but he is well aware that the results of recent provincial elections – in which he and his party did not do so well – may well be recreated during the next round of voting.
This, his critics say, gives him plenty of impetus to play for time by postponing elections.
Additionally the Prime Minister’s critics say that during the crises, al-Maliki has been able to gauge the depth of opposition to him - he knows those opposed to him and his party are a bigger group than ever.
Another thing: Iraq's major international influencers, the US and Iran, may also be more inclined to support a further term for al-Maliki if the Prime Minister appears able to contain the current crises.
“Al-Maliki creates crises and invents problems whenever there is some kind of election, in order to achieve his goals,” Hussein al-Mansouri, an MP from the Shiite Muslim Sadrist movement, told NIQASH.
“Al-Maliki's biggest problem is the way he deals with crises,” Iraqi writer and journalist Salwa Zakho commented on Her Facebook page. “The moment he creates one crisis, he blunders into it and is trapped. Then he creates another crisis to get out of the first crisis.”
Of course, al-Maliki's supporters deny that their leader is to blame for the crises plaguing their country.
“It is simply not true that al-Maliki creates crises on purpose,” Mohammed al-Sahyoud, a leading member of al-Maliki's Dawa party, argued. “Al-Maliki cannot be blamed for the current problems. All the blocs are part of these problems and they deserve equal blame.” Niqash