Can Maliki Save His Coalition?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Brendan Smialowski / Getty

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

(2 of 2)

The biggest obstacle to such a pact is Sittar's regionalism; he's powerful in Anbar, but not so much in other provinces dominated by Sunnis like Diyala and Salahuddin. There are questions of Sittar's ability to function as a reasonable political actor in Baghdad since at present his power and influence flows chiefly from a personal army that is at bottom a tribal militia. He has no presence in parliament or any other trappings of officialdom. In other words, Sittar is more warlord chieftain than national statesman. Moreover, Maliki's own Dawa party may blanch at the idea of forging an alliance with Sittar, who worked for a time with al-Qaeda in Iraq before turning against the group only late last year.

As of now, Maliki appears resigned to reconciling with Tawafiq, striking a conciliatory tone in his most recent public statements while Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, held talks with the Prime Minister and Sunni leaders aimed at finding compromises that could allow the old government to reform.

If reconciliation efforts fail, Maliki would have little choice but to find other Sunni partners, who would be essential in establishing any sense of government legitimacy in an already troubled Maliki administration, which is losing support even among some stalwart Shi'ite circles. Sittar and his followers, should they be interested, represent a distant, difficult possible alternative. If Sittar becomes part of the Maliki coalition, it would be seen as a positive step by the Americans because of his recent cooperation with the U.S. military in Anbar. That closeness, however, may be politically problematical for Maliki, who has been attempting to show his autonomy from Washington.

The Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Maliki's advisers appear split on the issue. Some of them appear to be urging Maliki to renew the Tawafiq partnership in an effort to stop already deep sectarian rifts from widening still further. Others close to the Prime Minister seem to think that the Sunni bloc is best let go, since virtually no political compromises ever seemed reachable with them. What Maliki himself is willing to consider will only be revealed if peace talks with Tawafiq falter. "We have a situation evolving right now that might lead to some fairly dramatic changes," the diplomat said. "The next few weeks will be critical."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next