YAIAR – Maliki’s decision to step aside

Maliki’s decision to step asideA new milestone was reached in the Iraqi crisis on Thursday, Aug. 14 when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki bowed to pressure and ceded his post to his rival.

He said that he was withdrawing his candidacy in favor of Dr Haider al-Abadi andldquofor the sake of preserving the unity of Iraq.andrdquoThis decision has wide implications both in Iraq and abroad.

In Iraq, Sunnis were opposed to Maliki because of his strictly sectarian approach that blatantly favored the Shiite majority of Iraq. He had alienated the Sunnis in almost all public spheres.

The Iraqi Kurds were disillusioned, not only because the majority of them are Sunnis but also because they were using the difficult position Maliki was in to come up with demands that Maliki could not fulfill.Malikiand#39s decision also has implications beyond Iraqand#39s borders.

The US supported Maliki from the beginning. In fact, he was picked up by the US when he was an obscure member of parliament in 2006 and in the absence of other suitable candidates, he was made prime minister From 2010, Maliki grew confident.

When the renewal of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was bogged down because of Malikiand#39s reluctance to sign it, it was an Iranian who solved the problem Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force unit of Iranand#39s Revolutionary Guard, convened the Iraqi political leaders in Tehran and, emphasizing that he was speaking on behalf of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, dictated that Maliki would remain prime minister, Jalal Talabani would remain president and American combat units would leave Iraq at the end of 2011.

In other words, the status of the US armed forces in Iraq was not decided in Washington or Baghdad but in Tehran.Today, three years after this incident, Ayatollah Khamenei changed his mind, probably at the instigation of Hassan Rouhani, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and supported Malikiand#39s dismissal.

Malikiand#39s decision is likely to contribute as well to the shaping of future relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia Saudis were uneasy about Malikiand#39s exclusionist policy that left Sunni Iraqis out of all political roles. Now that the new Prime Minister-designate Abadi is expected to implement a more inclusive policy, this may help soften the strained relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia on matters pertaining to Iraq.

Turkeyand#39s relations with Maliki have never been cordial. There are several reasons for it.

First, in 2011, the Sunni vice president of the Republic of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi, was sentenced to death as a result of a criminal case initiated by Prime Minister Maliki. Hashimi fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and from there to Turkey.

Turkey granted political asylum to Hashimi and this incident strained relations between Maliki and Turkey. Second, Turkey signed an agreement with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to export oil produced in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

The Baghdad authorities opposed this agreement on the grounds that the national resources of Iraq belong to the entire Iraqi nation and that it cannot be exported without the approval of the central authorities in Baghdad. Third, Turkey is unhappy with the sectarian policies adopted by Maliki not only because they exclude Sunnis from political life but also because they push the country closer to disintegration.

It is not easy to foretell how far Abadi will be able to distance himself from Malikiand#39s policies but if he delivers what is expected of him, a new page could be opened in Turkish-Iraqi relations.The biggest implication of Malikiand#39s decision will most probably concern the fight against the andldquoIslamic Stateandrdquo (IS).

The discontent of Iraqi Sunnis with Malikiand#39s exclusionist policies was among the major reasons why Mosul was evacuated by Iraqi forces without even the minimum resistance and why the IS is able to recruit new fighters from the Sunni community of Iraq. Malikiand#39s withdrawal may affect the course of events in the fight with the IS.

Malikiand#39s decision is definitely an important milestone in the Iraqi crisis, but only if Prime Minister Abadi delivers what is expected of him.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman