So there’s a little more meat to the preliminary reports that were coming out of Baghdad last night, and if you’re a fan of stable transfers of power, it’s not good. In an address yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused President Fuad Masum of violating the Iraqi Constitution, first by pushing back the deadline for parliament to appoint a new government, and second for not nominating Maliki, as the head of the largest party in the governing coalition, to form that government. He declared his intention to take Masum to court over the whole thing, which makes me think that suing presidents is just a new fad and that everybody’s doing it. But in Maliki’s case, the threat of a lawsuit came attached to a significant number of loyal militia forces being disbursed to points around Baghdad, which started to look very much like a coup in progress, or at least the threat of one.
So Maliki went to the Iraqi Supreme Court and, in what has to be the ballsiest legal proceeding of 2014 so far, asked that the court order that the prime minister could only be selected from Maliki’s State of Law coalition, since it won the most votes of any party in the most recent elections. This was an effort to sideline the other parties in the governing coalition, the National Iraqi Alliance (of which State of Law is one member), and it’s ballsy because, in 2010, when State of Law actually came in second to Iyad Allawi’s al-Iraqiyah party in the elections, Maliki went to the same court and argued that it was the coalition that should be allowed to choose the PM, not any one party. The court decided to uphold its 2010 ruling and sent Maliki packing.
Masum then went and nominated somebody from State of Law anyway, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Haider al-Abadi. So far, according to the Times, there’s no signal that Maliki is contesting the move by force, but it’s early, and he hasn’t yet shown any willingness to leave peaceably, either. It’s not clear that, if he did try to remain in power by force, he’d have enough backing to do so; the Kurds would obviously oppose him, and a considerable number of Shiʿa have stopped supporting him as well, most importantly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the senior Shiʿa religious figure in the country. Plus he’s burned up all his goodwill with the two biggest foreign players, the US and Iran. More intensive US support in the fight against the Islamic State in the north more or less hinges on Maliki’s ouster, since there can be no solution to the underlying problem of Sunni unrest as long as he’s still in office.
Abadi has actually been allied with Maliki since as far back as the US invasion and Saddam’s removal from power; they belong to the same party and Abadi seems to share Maliki’s affinity for Iran (or at least the affinity that Maliki had for Iran before they stopped supporting him). But he’s also made some comments that suggest he’s aware of the mistakes Maliki made in alienating the Sunni Arabs and fomenting sectarian resentments, and there are indications that he’ll be acceptable to elites across the various factions. At this point it seems anything would be better than Maliki, but it cannot be stressed enough that the ultimate solution to IS is as much political as it is military. Abadi has to take action to bring the country together and end the Sunni uprising.