Maliki’s Last Stand

by Dish Staff

World Leaders Converge At 62nd U.N. General Assembly

Despite – or more likely, because of – the emerging consensus that it’s time for new leadership, the embattled Iraqi prime minister insists that he will remain in his post until a court orders him to vacate it:

“Holding on (to the premiership) is an ethical and patriotic duty to defend the rights of voters,” he said in his weekly televised address to the nation. “The insistence on this until the end is to protect the state.” Al-Maliki on Monday vowed legal action against President Fouad Massoum for carrying out “a coup” against the constitution. “Why do we insist that this government continue and stay as is until a decision by the federal court is issued?” he asked, answering: “It is a constitutional violation — a conspiracy planned from the inside or from out.”

Iraqi troops imposed heightened security in Baghdad Wednesday as international support mounted for a political transition. Tanks and Humvees were positioned on Baghdad bridges and at major intersections on Wednesday, with security personnel more visible than usual. About 100 pro-Maliki demonstrators took to Firdous Square in the capital, pledging their allegiance to him.

Josh Voorhees outlines the supposed constitutional basis for Maliki’s claim:

The issue of who’s in the right is a complicated one, all the more so given the Iraqi constitution’s often vague and muddled wording.

The letter of the law calls for the president to nominate a prime minister from “the largest Council of Representatives bloc.” In this case, that would be the State of Law coalition, which both Maliki and Abadi belong to. According to Reidar Visser, a historian and expert on Iraqi politics, there may once have been a case that Maliki deserved the chance to form a government. But such an argument quickly fell apart over the past 48 hours as the State of Law coalition split its support between the current prime minister and the man nominated to replace him. “Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will [now] be of academic interest only,”Visser has concluded.

Having lost the support of both Washington and Tehran, Maliki’s fate looks sealed, but he could still cause trouble:

“Ultimately, Maliki certainly cannot survive as ruler of Iraq without Iranian and U.S. support,” said Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The question of his premiership is not very relevant now; he’s no longer prime minister of Iraq, whatever he says.” Michael Eisenstadt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Maliki had lost support inside and outside Iraq, with 38 of the 96 lawmakers in his State of Law bloc backing Abadi just as Washington and Tehran effectively told him to throw in the towel. “In practical terms, Maliki’s fate as a legitimate politician is sealed,” Eisenstadt said. …

Even if he steps down, Itani cautioned that Maliki could make life difficult for Iraq’s next rulers. Maliki, Itani said, has spent years appointing loyalists to key positions throughout Iraq’s government and security organizations. He could emerge as a “pretty powerful de facto militia leader, capable of causing all sorts of headaches for the U.S., Iran, and his Shiite rivals,” Itani said. Eisenstadt, meanwhile, said Maliki could decide that violence is the answer.

And Maliki’s past misdeeds, Juan Cole adds, might make things difficult for his intended successor, Haider al-Abadi:

Unfortunately, in order to resolve the current crisis in Iraq, al-Abadi needs internal allies more than external lip support. He needs more than pro forma support from the Kurds in confronting IS in Diyala, Salahuddin and Ninawa provinces. And, he needs to detach some of the Sunni tribal leaders from the IS. The last time the Sunni rural notables allied with Baghdad against al-Qaeda, they were treated shoddily. Al-Maliki declined to continue their stipends or give very many of them government jobs. Since they had fought terrorists, they were often targeted for reprisals by the terrorists. And, al-Maliki even prosecuted some who had fought Baghdad before changing their minds and joining “Awakening Councils.” The difficulty is that when al-Abadi goes to the tribal chiefs, he may not get much of a hearing. He is after all from al-Maliki’s party.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)