When Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was asked about the demonstrations staged against him in Baghdad last year, he replied that it was Iraq that started the Arab Spring. This is reminiscent of Bashar al-Assad’s statement to the Wall Street Journal, a few weeks after the Syrian revolution erupted, in which he claimed he was not concerned about the protests because Syria represents the resistance front against Israel.
The Arab Spring did not start in Iraq nor is Syria a resistance front. Even if either of these two statements were right, this is not what matters. What matters is what the people there think.
Al-Maliki’s only concern is staying in power, but he is facing several challenges, one of which being that he is his second and final term in office. He tried to modify the constitution in order to engineer a third term but failed, and now he might not even last until the end of this term. This is why he is now trying to look for other solutions, such as dissolving the parliament before it votes against him, or holding early elections.
Today, Sunday, could be the beginning of the first battle. Al-Maliki, who failed to secure the majority vote in the 2010 elections, came to power as part of a coalition with the support of the Shiites and the Sunni Kurds. Those alliances have, however, changed and al-Maliki is now willing to ally with his enemies, whether Shiite Sadrists or the Sunni Arabs. Yet the latter are already engaged in demonstrations against him, especially following the accusations levelled against Finance Minister Rafea al-Eissawi, a prominent Sunni figure. In fact, al-Maliki has alienated almost every Sunni leader and is on the verge of a confrontation with the Kurds in the north, apparently due to Iran’s desire to forge a route into Syria in order to rescue al-Assad’s besieged regime. Al-Maliki’s main concern is to monopolize power, and so he has also marginalized Shiite leaders like Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the wise politician Adel Abdul Mahdi. He is getting ever closer to Iran and is willing to do anything in order to stay in power.
It is important to note that Maliki’s position is unrivalled by any president or king, possibly anywhere else in the world, for he has sole authority over all key ministries and entities including security, intelligence, the armed forces, finance, the central bank, the media, the judiciary, and the policy of “de-baathification.” Currently, he is trying to seize control of the anti-corruption bodies, and the list goes on.
When the deputy prime minister said in an interview with CNN that al-Maliki was a dictator, he was immediately dismissed. When al-Maliki fell out with Vice President Tarek al-Hashimi, he accused him of terrorism and conspiracy, and jailed his bodyguards.
It will be very hard to uproot Maliki from his position whether by constitutional means, i.e. through the parliament, or by demonstrations and civil disobedience. Iraqis are at the beginning of another rocky road that could return them back to square one; back to when Saddam Hussein was in power and the United States lost a trillion dollars and 4,000 of its soldiers in order to get rid of him and his legacy. Al-Maliki will be ousted, but only after he destroys Iraq in a manner similar to al-Assad in Syria.