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Update No: 089 - (26/08/10)

Maliki’s last stand
Maliki’s chance of being reconfirmed as Prime Minister seem slimmer and slimmer. The rival Shiite coalition of the Iraqi National Alliance has confirmed its opposition to Maliki, even if they confirm that they see an alliance with Maliki’s State of Law as their preferred option. There are indications that State of Law itself might be distancing from Maliki. Why does Maliki then insist on his own self-candidature? He says that any alternative candidate would face even greater opposition by this or that faction, but probably what he hopes is that Iranian pressure to have an all-Shiite alliance would prevail over the objections of the Iraqi National Alliance to his name. Even if the Alliance claims that it has other options available in terms of forming a coalition government, any alternative coalition would upset the Iranians, particularly at this point in time. Maliki is using his residual power as acting Prime Minister by hitting at personalities within the State of Law party who are not too friendly to him. He let the Minister of Electricity go in July and in August he sacked the Minister of Transport. Although in both cases there was some justification for the step taken, in the past Maliki had been willing to defend the members of his cabinet. Is this a warning to the State of Law? If so, it seems to be interpreted more as a bluff by Maliki’s fellow party members.

Al-Qaida has another try
Perhaps encouraged by the on-going American troops withdrawal and by the fraying of Sunni support for the status quo, Al-Qaida is allegedly trying to re-establish itself among the Sunnis with both an enhanced anti-Shiite terrorist campaign and offers of cash; some ‘Sons of Iraq’ reportedly have already switched sides back to Al-Qaida. Are the Sunni militia leaders exaggerating the threat? Possibly, but the fear of unrestrained Shiite dominance is felt seriously by many Sunnis. An Iranian influenced government would probably insist on a final American withdrawal and rather quickly too – where would that leave the Sunnis? Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari, Iraq's senior military officer, wants the Americans to maintain a presence until 2020, because he does not believe the Iraqi armed forces can hold their own. Is he worried about Al-Qaida? Considering that Iraq has now 440,000 police and 220,000 soldiers, that seem unlikely. The problem is whether the uneasy coalition shaped by the Americans with ‘carrot and stick’ is likely or not to hold.

Brotherhood with Iran flourishes
Iraq is definitely bucking the world trend in terms of relations with Iran. The Iraqi government has agreed to the plan to build an Iran-Syria gas pipeline through its territory, a project which is now moving to the stage of the technical feasibility study. Trade between the two countries is now flourishing and stands at about US$7 billion a year, with little sign of any impact of sanctions. By contrast, American funds are beginning to dry up. US$400 million of aid money has been cut by congress, as well as US$1 billion of military aid. These cuts will not be offset by increased oil production for some time; new reserves are being discovered, like two 2-billion bpd fields in Kurdistan, announced by a South Korean firm in August, but investment in the industry is still flowing slowly. 

 



 

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