With his backers and indeed his own party--the Dawa Party--deserting him, Nouri al-Maliki was left with little choice but to relinquish the post of prime minister. Will Iraq now be able to rise above sectarianism and develop into a stable entity? It will depend on the policies the Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi adopts.
Thursday August 14, 2014, 21:13 DST
After dragging his feet for weeks, Nouri al-Maliki has been forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq paving the way for Haider al-Abadi to take over.
Maliki made the announcement today (August 14) although a day earlier he had said he was the legal prime minister of the country and nobody could replace him. He also threatened to take the matter to court and had earlier threatened to take legal action even against President Fouad Masum who had nominated Abadi to form the new government.
“I announce before you today [August 14], to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government [with] the withdrawal of my candidacy in favor of brother Dr. Haider al-Abadi,” Maliki said in an address on state television.
Various political players from his Dawa Party as well as other Shia groups that form the largest bloc in parliament, as a result of the Shia majority in the country, glanced Maliki as he made the announcement.
Abadi has a month to select his cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.
In a defiant tone a day earlier, Maliki had said that he was still the prime minister by virtue of the Dawa Party holding the largest number of seats in parliament to which he belongs but the rug was pulled from under his feet when the party announced the same day its support for Abadi, calling on different political parties to endorse him as well.
The Dawa Party called on political blocs “to cooperate with the constitutionally designated Prime Minister, Mr. Abadi, and accelerate the formation of a government in the defined time period.”
Even while clinging to power by the skin of his teeth, Maliki’s supporters deserted him because he was seen as a divisive figure who was unable to rise above his narrow sectarian agenda. It has yet to be seen whether Abadi would be any different given deep polarization in Iraqi society but for now, most people have breathed a sigh of relief at Maliki’s departure.
Maliki was forced to step down when two important supporters of Iraq threw their weight behind Abadi. On August 11 Iran welcomed Abadi’s nomination and wished him well in a clear signal that it was withdrawing its support from Maliki.
The other blow to Maliki’s ambitions was dealt by Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Sistani’s response to the Dawa Party seeking his opinion. Ayatullah Sistani said the new premier should have broad national acceptance and be able to work with other ethnic and religious leaders in the country.
If Abadi is able to operate above sectarian politics, Iraq may be nursed back to some form of stability.
The present turmoil gripping the country with the takfiri group, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) that has occupied parts of Iraq is partly due to the sectarian policies of Maliki.
The ISIS is neither Islamic nor does it have any credibility among the Muslim masses but even these thugs were welcomed by some Iraqis because they were fed up with Maliki’s narrow sectarian agenda.
Will the new prime minister be able to deal with the takfiri threat? It is still an open question and will depend on how he formulates policies to win the trust of other communities in Iraq—Sunnis and Kurds.
Unfortunately sectarian and ethnic tendencies have been stoked in Iraq first as a direct policy of the US and second by Iraqi politicians following their narrow sectarian and ethnic agendas.
For all practical purposes, Iraq is no longer a unitary state. It is divided into a de fact Kurdish state in the north, with the takfiris controlling the middle part while Shias confined to their majority areas in the south.
This is a dangerous situation one that is open to exploitation by unsavory characters like the US, Zionist Israel, Saudi Arabia and others. It will depend on Iraqi politicians to rise above their sectarian/ethnic loyalties to be able to make this work.
Maliki’s stepping aside has provided an opportunity and it will be interesting to see whether the Prime Minister designate Abadi is up to the task.