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The Iraqi elections: Nouri Al-Maliki and his opponents

Nouri Al-Maliki The Iraqi parliamentary elections will be held on April 30th at a time when the political arena continues to be marked by an increasing number of conflicts and fragmentation. A number of political blocs are being formed due to many factors, the most prominent of which are the policies of President Nouri Al-Maliki and his investment in the Iraqi state in a way that benefits his Islamic Dawa Party. At the same time, Al-Maliki has also deepened rifts among his political opponents and has worked to link them with cases marked by corruption and laziness. On the one hand, this tactic eliminates any sense of real competition between Al-Maliki and his opponents and, on the other, he has succeeded in bringing about their moral and political downfall.

Al-Maliki has also invested a great deal of effort in ensuring that he is the sole decision-maker on issues pertaining to the Iraqi military and state security. He did this in order to trap his political opponents who could not have been eliminated in any other way.

These factors are what have brought Iraq to the crucial stage of legislative elections, which will decide who will be the next prime minister. The people have issued a number of complaints about the deteriorating state of security, the lack of public services and the rampant corruption at every level of the administrative and political pyramid of Iraq. It is easy to see that there is a strange sense of fragmentation and hatred among all classes and groups of the people.

The Iraqi political scene has changed greatly from what it was in 2009 and 2010. In the upcoming 2014 election, some 9,200 candidates will compete for 328 parliamentary seats. These candidates represent 36 political coalitions and 71 political entities, most notably the rule of law, the citizen's bloc, the liberal bloc, the united bloc for reform and Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.

This political reality highlights clearly the fact that larger electoral blocs are being divided into smaller groups. Even the current prime minister's electoral bloc finds itself without its major allies in the current campaign. Yet, Al-Maliki continues to deny that his party represents a political bloc because that would deprive him of the chance to win the election. Maliki instead chooses to exclude his opponents by claiming that he represents the majority, which is something that he tries to remind the people frequently.

Ammar Hakim and Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leaders of the Citizens' and Liberal blocs respectively, recently emerged from beneath the Shiite alliance's umbrella. They have opted to form a new alliance with Ayad Allawi and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in an effort to form the largest parliamentary bloc and prevent Al-Maliki from staying in office for a third term under the pretext of majority rule. Forming a new and successful majority bloc will afford these leaders the opportunity to manage the country's affairs.

As for Iran, it has tried, and continues to try, to revive the Shiite political alliance so that it may be able to single out and influence Iraqi politics. However, the Iranian initiative was stalled due to Al-Maliki's belief that he can control things through the ballot box. He continues to take advantage of three factors: US support for Iran's current position, the use of public money in an effort to win over certain tribal and political figures, and the use of excessive force to paralyse all other political opponents and their efforts to mobilise in the current period.

Despite all that is going on in the political scene, Iran has not stopped trying to send its high-ranking political personalities to Iraq. Among these is Iran's proactive ambassador in Baghdad and a key player in the region, General Ghasemi Soleimani, both of whom engage in regular meetings with Ayad Allawi, Barzani and others.

Despite Iran's support for Al-Maliki and the Dawa Party, it has also listened strategically to his opponents' concerns in case they win the election. Allawi, who is a leading candidate with the potential to win, said recently that Iran has taken on positive new initiatives with Iraqi politicians that are based on dialogue as opposed to ultimatums. Iran's efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Iraqi political scene anticipate multiple political outcomes instead of placing all bets on Al-Maliki.

Yet, it seems that Iran will continue to support the current prime minister nonetheless and will re-evaluate its position in light of alternative outcomes should the need arise. After all, Iran knows that the Supreme Islamic Council remains weak and that Sadr's group is undergoing a great deal of chaos due to a lack of political leadership and rampant corruption. The Sunnis in Iraq are also in a weak position due to their lack of political leadership and reference points on the one hand and their inability to maintain a firm grip on security in a number of key provinces such as Al-Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin.

Finally, the Kurdish leadership also finds itself divided between the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Barzani, and the Patriotic Union, led by absentee Jalal Talabani. The latter is known for signing treaties with Al-Maliki and the Dawa Party whereas Barzani will be among those who make solid political gains on the ground (as in Kirkuk or other disputed territories) or through legislation.

The main problem when it comes to the Iraqi parliamentary election is its dependence on a single hypothesis, which centres around Nouri Al-Maliki and the question of whether he will remain in power or not. Al-Maliki is the reason why the majority of political blocs are now weak and lack true political leadership and this is the problem that occupies the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

They have made Nouri Al-Maliki their main cause and, through this, the main questions in society centre on the prime minister's sectarian party. Thus, many are placing their bets on the possibility that he will achieve yet another political victory although this is due to a lack of political leadership in other blocs and parties, which are chosen by Iraqis. The main goal behind this parliamentary election is to achieve the largest victory possible for Iraq's Shiites.

So far, the only bloc that can stand in opposition to Al-Maliki's government is the United Bloc, which is the largest Sunni Coalition to challenge the current government since the Iraqi Bloc in the 2010 election. However, due to its lack of political experience (as an opposition group) not many Iraqis will vote for it because they are unable to imagine how the group will lead the Iraqi people.

In this case, the dramatic effect of Allawi, the man who won the previous election according to a poll published by the Washington Post, no longer exists and he is expected to experience a heavy loss. The poll attributed Allawi's failure to the people turning their backs on him after his victory four years ago because Al-Maliki agreed to step down from his role in forming a new government only if he was given a job with absolutely no meaning or precedents.

The United Bloc's president and parliamentary speaker Osama Najafi accused Al-Maliki of orchestrating and implementing this scheme in an attempt to blackmail Iraq's Sunni population and keep them from participating in the elections and from bringing about any true demographic changes. In an interview with a Turkish news agency, Najafi said, "Al-Maliki's scheme is being implemented in sectarian militias and what's worrying is that they are operating under the auspices of the security sector, which is supposed to protect all people regardless of religious or sectarian affiliation."

Najafi also claimed that the demographics and geography of Baghdad have changed greatly because, he claims, "whole areas in the city have been abandoned". If Najafi's claims are true, this means that the capital has fallen victim to election scheming.

The 2014 parliamentary election could be an important turning point in Iraqi history if the results lead to real changes in the country's leadership. If the public trust in the election is lost and there is no peaceful transfer of power the only possible alternatives are military operations, which would undoubtedly open the door for regional intervention in the country and widespread violence in the Arab and non-Arab areas.

As such, I believe that it is in the interest of the Shiites before anyone else to avoid re-electing Al-Maliki because his presence on the political scene will only give way to more sectarian strife and tension between equal citizens of the Iraqi state. One must look beyond the US administration's stance on the Iraqi leadership because those who concern themselves with this matter support the policies that were brought about by the 2003 US-led invasion.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 15 April 2014

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