If Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wins a third term, or if another Shi’ite politician replaces him, it could set in motion an intensification of the sectarian battles and tensions tearing at the viability of the Iraqi state.
Maliki is portraying himself as the strongman who can maintain security as his forces fight in the western Anbar province against the Sunni insurgency, dominated by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but his actions have only served to aggravate ethnic tensions.
“Maliki’s Shi’ite rivals want to unseat him because they feel he’s monopolized power, and the Sunnis by and large want Maliki gone. The main Kurdish political branch, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, also wants him out,” Ned Parker, Baghdad bureau chief for the Reuters news agency, said in an interview with the Council of Foreign Relations.
Kirk Sowell, the Ammanbased principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm and the editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, tweeted that the election is “fundamentally an intra- Shia fight,” and that the prospective Shi’ite prime minister will have a near parliamentary majority even without Sunni or Kurd support.
The situation has increased speculation about the state disintegrating as the Iraqi army has proven to be unable to control its territory.
“You can see how terrorism is eating our flesh. We’re almost helpless,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Staff Maj.-Gen. Muhammad Khalaf Saied al-Dulaimi, a commander based in the northern city of Kirkuk, as saying on Sunday.
“The security forces were surprised that the militants were better equipped than the security forces themselves… Our soldiers don’t have anything more than AK-47s,” said Dulaimi. The general added that soldiers are deserting because of a lack of training and weapons.
In a TV interview on Sky News Arabic earlier this month, Masoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan, said it is time to reorganize the region and that Iraq should become a confederation, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reported.
“The important thing is for the decision-making to be in the hands of the Kurds, and not in Baghdad,” he said.
Presuming a Shi’ite prime minister forms the next coalition, it is likely he would continue or intensify efforts at consolidating power within the central government in Baghdad so as to protect the territorial integrity of the Iraq state under Shi’ite majority rule.
“Politicians speak in a much more radical and sectarian tone,” Parker said. “Hundreds of thousands have been displaced; there is fighting on the perimeter of Baghdad and in neighboring provinces on the capital’s doorstep. Shi’ite militias have been mobilized to fight side by side with the Iraqi security forces against ISIL.”
Iraq finds itself as one of the focal points of the regional ethnic conflicts, allied with the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis, and with its enemy, the ISIL, operating between it and Syria.
Consequently, as with elections that have been carried out in other area states, the elections in Iraq appear less a landmark for “Iraqi democracy” than a method for continuing the ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts in the region.