The mating dance of Team Shiite begins anew
Kim Gamel and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of the Associated Press report from Baghdad today:
The Iranian-backed Shiite parties that helped propel Iraq’s prime minister into power three years ago dumped him Monday as their candidate for re-election, forming a new alliance to contest the January vote.
The move dealt a blow to Nouri al-Maliki’s chances to keep his job next year and set the stage for a showdown between competing factions in the Shiite coalition that had dominated Iraq’s government since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
. . . The Shiite prime minister’s efforts to win public confidence by portraying himself as a champion of security have taken a battering in recent weeks. A wave of horrific bombings has called into question the government’s ability to protect the Iraqi people two months after most U.S. forces pulled out of urban areas.
. . . Monday’s political announcement — made with fanfare at a news conference — represents a major realignment.
The new bloc, called the Iraqi National Alliance, will include the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, or SIIC, and [Moqtada] al-Sadr’s bloc . . .
. . . [Maliki] stayed out of the new alliance because leaders refused to guarantee him the prime minister’s spot, officials said. Rumored possibilities for the job include new alliance members ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, current Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and even Former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite.
(*A brief pause here, to allow readers to shudder*)
The realignment does not immediately threaten al-Maliki’s position as prime minister, but points to stormy politics in the election campaign and beyond, as U.S. troops begin scaling back their presence.
Supreme Council lawmaker Reda Jawad Taqi said a last-ditch meeting was held Sunday to try to bring al-Maliki into the fold but it failed to overcome the differences.
Then again, with at least five months to go before the elections, nothing can be considered final:
One of al-Maliki’s advisers, Hassan al-Sineid, said in a televised response that the prime minister and the leaders of the new alliance differed over “the mechanism of participation in the alliance and the need to open this alliance to include a broad range of political powers.”
In other words, the assorted hucksters couldn’t agree on the latest division of the loot (i.e., the respective number of seats in the Iraqi parliament and allotted Cabinet posts, and the opportunities for graft that go with them).
The prime minister instead is working to form an alternate coalition. He is reaching out to a prominent Sunni sheik in Anbar province, whose followers include fighters who joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.
. . . Despite Monday’s announcement, the new Shiite alliance was careful to leave the door open for the Dawa Party to join later.
Abdul-Mahdi, a top SIIC member, was among those reaching out to Dawa, saying it was important to present a strong united front that can address the overwhelming challenges facing the country.
Bet on Grand Ayatollah/cat-herder-in-chief Ali Sistani to get involved, either personally or through proxies in Iran, to referee the dispute. By the time the election rolls around, the team is likely to be back together again.
Update: Both Juan Cole and Joel Wing at Musings on Iraq cite claims/rumors endorsing my hunch that the sticking point is how many seats Maliki’s party would be allotted as part of the allied election slate. (Separately, there’s a detailed breakdown of the factions involved from Reidar Visser.)
Prof. Cole raises a point I nearly suggested in my original post — Maliki might run on a different slate from the rest of Team Shiite, then agree to form a governing coalition after the election. The possibly too-clever thinking at work in this scenario could be that Maliki would pick up votes from those who didn’t want to elect a sectarian slate, while the Hakim-Sadr-et al. group could pose as running against the Maliki regime… even though (surprise!) everyone would wind up in effect reelecting Team Shiite, with Maliki on top.