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With US gone, Iraq's Maliki is setting the board for a power grab

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With Iraqiyya being politically hounded, a return to open civil war in Iraq is a real possibility. The group effectively represents Sunni interests in the country. Sunni voters turned out enthusiastically in 2010 after past electoral boycotts, and the group was in effect an experiment in whether they could gain a real political voice in the country through the ballot box. The failure of that experiment will send a worrying message.

How did we get here? Last year, Maliki and fellow Shiite politicians deftly outmaneuvered Iraqiyya to hold on to power after elections. The new prime minister assured his erstwhile American benefactors and Iraq's Sunni Arabs that power sharing arrangements would be found to mollify fears that a new tyranny of the majority was emerging in Iraq. That's one reason three "vice president" posts were created, including the one Hashemi now holds.

Sure, Iraqiyya had won a plurality of seats in the new parliament and so by rights should have been allowed to form Iraq's government. But Maliki had simply cobbled together a stronger coalition, all part of the democratic game. Fears that Shiite Islamists will lord it over Iraq's Sunni Arab minority (about 40 percent of the population)? Don't worry, Maliki said. I'm creating a super-committee to share power to give Iyad Allawi (the former Baathist who leads Iraqiyya) a meaningful seat at the table.

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