Iraq crisis: Maliki’s days in power numbered as Iran and US lose faith

Obama has demanded more ‘effective’ leadership and Iran looks set to follow as Isis militants threaten Baghdad

Baghdad

Isolated and discredited by humiliating military defeat, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is likely to go soon, battered as he is by only slightly veiled demands for his immediate departure from powerful figures who once supported him. Within hours of President Obama making it implicitly clear that he wants a change of political leadership in Baghdad, the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shia, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was calling for a new and “effective” government that avoided the mistakes of the old. Nobody in Baghdad has any doubts that he wants the Prime Minister gone.

The longer Mr Maliki clings on to power the more likely it is that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) will win further victories and the Sunni community will remain united behind the al-Qa’ida-type group. Military sources in Baghdad say Mr Obama’s clear signal that the US was not going to use its air force to preserve the status quo in Baghdad has “damaged the army’s morale and self-confidence”. The army had been hoping somewhat unrealistically for a promise of air strikes to stem the advance of Isis and its allies.

There are other less diplomatic voices demanding that Mr Maliki, who has held office since 2006, should go. Umm Nahid, a resident of Ramadi, the capital of the vast and overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province, told The Independent that the city had been mostly taken by the Anbar Tribes Revolutionary Council, led by Hatem Suleiman. Suleiman says he is preventing Isis advancing down the road towards Baghdad, but will stop doing this unless the Iraqi army fully withdraws from Ramadi, all prisoners are released (some 100,000 are believed to be in jail) and, above all, “Maliki is removed from power”.

His threat strikingly underlines the extent to which Mr Maliki has become a hate figure for the five or six million-strong Iraqi Sunni community.  Hostility to the Prime Minister as responsible for their oppression has enabled Isis fanatics to collaborate with disparate Sunni armed groups whom they were previously fighting. For the Sunni, hatred and fear of Mr Maliki is a powerful uniting force just as detestation of Saddam Hussein used to enable the Shia and Kurds to plaster over their differences.

 

Mr Maliki does not see it that way and has rejected calls for his departure as dictated by outside powers, but Iraqi politicians who have always opposed him now think they can bring him down. By 30 June at the latest the Iraqi parliament must meet to choose a new speaker, president and prime minister. It appears that Mr Maliki, despite having done well in the 30 April parliamentary election, does not have the votes to survive.

As a second line of defence, he will try to ensure that somebody from within his own State of Law coalition and close to him, like his former chief of staff Tariq Najim, takes over. He would try to remain a power in the background and at worst to shield his family – and his rule has become very much that of his extended family – from prosecution, much as Boris Yeltsin cut a deal when Vladimir Putin took over as Russian leader in 1999.

These manoeuvres seem petty and wholly self-serving when Isis fighters are less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad. The capital itself could erupt at any moment when Isis decides to activate its cells in the Sunni enclaves. In the last few days, military sources say they discovered such an Isis cell in the largely Shia area of Karada purporting to be a charitable organisation, but in practice under the control of a former general from Saddam’s time, that was monitoring the city’s defences.

The danger of Baghdad falling makes it damaging to bargain at any length about the future leadership of Iraq. “People might accept Tariq Najim because they are so desperate to get Maliki out,” said one observer. Other candidates like Iyad Allawi, Ahmed Chalabi and several others all have supporters but prolonged wrangling would make it difficult to re-energise and re-organise the army. 

Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the al Qaeda-linked ISIS Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the al Qaeda-linked ISIS (Reuters)
There is another player in the struggle over the Iraqi leadership whose views may be decisive. This is Iran and Mr Maliki in recent years has been very much Iran’s man. It was the Iranians who were finally responsible for him staying in power after the 2010 election. Iraqi politicians familiar with the Iranian leadership say that it is uncertain what to do and, at least until recently, Iran’s supreme spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, has wanted to maintain support for Mr Maliki. It may be the Iranians want to exact a price from the US for abandoning him, but the Iranians will not want Baghdad to fall or to have to send Iranian troops to prevent this happening.

A problem in the present crisis is that Iraqi political leaders may be relying too much on the US or Iran to bail them out. “They like to believe that the Americans have a magic wand and the Iranians will always stick with them regardless,” says Ghassan al-Attiyah, Iraqi political scientist and activist. “The Americans may be willing to fight Isis but they do not want to be dragged into a sectarian war against the Sunni.”

Like Macbeth in his last days, Mr Maliki stands at bay as his enemies corner him at last and his former friends desert him. He is said to be angry with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari for not defending the government against accusations of sectarianism by Saudi Arabia at a meeting of foreign ministers this week. “But how could Zebari have defended Maliki?” asked an observer in Baghdad. “No defence is possible.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing boutique prac...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?