Nouri al-Maliki: Finally reaching out? (via pingnews, Flickr)
You can say lot of things about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but the least is that observers are confident about his abilities. As John Burns of the NY Times once put it: “If you were sitting on a local school board you would be worried about appointing him to be Principal of your local highschool”.
With being responsible for 30 million Iraqis, al-Maliki’s reign has been a source of constant frustration for the Bush administration. As a Shiite, he has alienated the country’s Sunnis and has not been able to diminish the influence of Shiite militias like Muqtada al-Sadr. Under immense pressure to deliver results, he personally led an attack of 30,000 Iraqi troops against Mahdi-army in Basra, but the ill-planned attack badly failed and showed that the Iraqi army (though helped by U.S. and British troops) is not yet up to the job.
Still, the symbolism of him addressing the al-Sadr-problem has earned him some positive reactions by the Kurdish and Sunni minorities; at the same time, Mr. al-Sadr (who is currently in Iran) seems to back down from openly confronting the Iraqi army and his followers, of whom a lot are under siege in Sadr-city now, seem to be divided about whether to rise up in yet another violent insurgency or to try to gain political influence in the provincial elections in October.
While the Mahdi-army is under pressure, Mr. al-Maliki is preparing to bring back together the unity government and therefore sending another signal of reconciling with the Sunnis. These steps are also important for American diplomatic efforts going on in the background, which try to bring their loyal allies in the region into supporting Iraq (Saudi Arabia, for example, sees Mr. Al-Maliki as a Shiite thug who is capable of increasing Iran’s influence in the region).
Still, Mr. al-Maliki has to face a lot of uncertainties: Another successful uprising by Mr. al-Sadr’s Madhi-army and his job will be in limbo again; his protection of other Shiite insurgent troops who are close to his political allies could backfire as soon as the Sunnis get more influence. And finally, there is another player involved: Al-Qaida in Iraq has continued to carry out suicide attacks and, if the interpretation of senior member Ayman al-Zawahri’s critique of Iran is correct, may turn against Shiites once more. It looks like Mr. al-Maliki’s legacy will be defined in the next months – but expect more violent hurdles getting in his way before the provincial elections in October.