Iraqi strongman wannabe Nouri al-Maliki has failed to join the latest incarnation of Iraq's leading parliamentary bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance.
Reports the Wash Post:
The new Shiite coalition will be led by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a conservative party that is among Iran's closest allies in Iraq. It also includes the movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the Fadhila Party; former Pentagon ally Ahmed Chalabi; and former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari.
In other words, it's old home week at the Shiite coaltiion: All of these characters and parties have been in and out of Iraq's leading political alliance, with its list headed by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, since the 2005 parliamentary elections. All that's really missing this time around is Maliki and his Dawa Party.
Alliance leaders said they invited Maliki to join but refused to guarantee that he would keep his job if the alliance obtained a majority of seats.
That last little bit, about the Shiite coalition refusing to guarantee Maliki his leadership post, is in the 8th paragraph of the story, but I am guessing it is the reason behind Maliki's opting out. He wants to stay top dog, and has been observed taking actions to do so accordingly.
Strangely, however, the Post story couches Maliki's exit as evidence of the new rise of an Iranian-influenced power bloc in Iraq, with the implication being that Maliki is in opposition to it. Here's how the story opens:
Major Shiite parties with close links to Iran announced a new coalition Monday that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a development that appears to make him the underdog in the coming national elections.
If the new coalition remains intact and secures a majority of parliamentary seats in the Jan. 16 vote, Iraq's next government probably will be run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, which would considerably curb U.S. influence here as American troops continue to withdraw.
How soon they forget!
Iraq current government is run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, including Maliki, as David Ignatius's column this week about the resignation of Iraq's intelligence chief reminds us. The chief tells Ignatius he resigned due to "what he viewed as Maliki's attempts to undermine his service and allow Iranian spies to operate freely." Can't get much closer than that, although Maliki may have: Another source tells Ignatius "Iran's links with Maliki are so close, said this Iraqi intelligence source, that the prime minister uses an Iranian jet with an Iranian crew for his official travel."
Meanwhile, remember after the parliamentary elections of 2005 when the United Iraqi Alliance became the leading party (basically this same Shiite bloc plus Maliki's Dawa Party) and Iran's Rafsanjani crowed about the election as being an Iranian victory and a US setback? And don't forget the US-Iraq status of forces agreement that prohibits US forces from attacking anybody from Iraq, as Maliki rushed off to Iran to proclaim. The Post continues:
The new alliance and the likelihood that Maliki will be forced have to partner with Sunnis suggest that Iraqi politicians are increasingly willing to cross sectarian lines in the pursuit of power.
My hunch is Maliki would cross any line in the pursuit of power -- including the border of Iran, where he, along every other Shiite power broker today in Iraq spent many years.
Some of them are still there: From paragraph 20:
The new alliance was announced during a televised news conference Monday morning. Tellingly, the leaders of the Supreme Council and the Sadr movement were not present because they currently reside in Iran. Supreme Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is ailing from lung cancer, is being treated in Iran. Sadr has been based there in recent years, studying under senior Iranian clerics.
Such a holy old boy.
I think we're looking at a raw power struggles among brother-vipers, not variances in Iraqi geopolitical tilt. Either way it all comes out, however, Iran wins.
And things are looking good for Iraq's "new" Shiite alliance:
... others, such as Alaa Rehha, 31, said they would support the new alliance. "This is an Islamic country and we don't believe in liberalism and secularism," he said. "I hope they win again and assign only religious, qualified people to sensitive positions."
Rehha will love this. Among the coalition's "guiding principles," the New York Times reports, was this:
Another plank would surely dismay the American officials under former President George W. Bush who hoped the establishment of a democratic Iraq would spread peace throughout the region. It vowed “not to establish relations with the Zionist entity,” meaning Israel.
Nice. Then again, what else is new? Iraq has no relations with Israel, and is an enthusastic participant in the Arab boycott of Israel, neither of which much bothered the Bush administration; indeed, from the start Baghdad nixed the return of any Iraqi Jewish refugees forced to renounce their citizenship and flee after the establishment of the modern state of Israel.
Billions of dollars, 4,000 lives and uncounted limbs later, we can safely say the US has indeed "stood up" an Iraqi government.
Onto Afghanistan ....