Baghdad Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s postelection strategy suggests he is prepared for a long and bitter fight to hold on to power, even if it alienates the country’s Sunni community and risks new sectarian warfare.
The Iraqi leader is trying all sorts of legal maneuvers to deny victory to his chief opponent, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose secular, nationalist bloc won the most parliamentary seats in the March 7 elections and presumably the right to try to form a new government.
Even if al-Maliki sticks with nominally legal measures, he risks serious damage to all the efforts to ease sectarian tensions that had begun to bear fruit three years after the U.S. troop surge. A resurgence of major violence would complicate U.S. plans to withdraw all its forces from Iraq by the end of next year.
The showdown has cast a spotlight on Iraq’s judicial process, which some have said is far from independent and often subject to outside pressures. And in such a young democracy with little institutional knowledge or precedent upon which to draw, the constitution and laws passed by parliament are not always clear.
No issue is potentially more explosive than a committee’s attempts to disqualify some winning candidates because of ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Sunnis view the committee, led by a Shiite with ties to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as nothing other than a group dedicated to purging Sunnis from government.
While al-Maliki does not directly control the committee, he has certainly benefited from its actions and has done little to deter it. At least four candidates targeted by the committee are from Allawi’s party list, which includes many Sunnis and won significant voter support from the minority sect. If a court disqualifies enough candidates to tilt the race in al-Maliki’s favor, that would be a huge provocation to Sunnis.