Maliki Coalition, Less Than Expected - 10.01.2009

Although there has been hesitance, today several outlets reported on Prime Minister Maliki’s announcement of the formation of the State of Law Coalition. Unfortunately the reports are distressingly similar, and appear to reflect previous analysis and it almost appears that the journalists of Associated Press and Agence France Presse shared their notes and wrote essentially the same article!

As Reidar Visser observes, “Malikiís list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for.”

Reidar’s report was taken from reading Arabic language reports on the press conference, which had a bit more detail. Unfortunately Prime Minister’s Daawa Party had not released the full list of participants in the coalition as of this writing.

The New York Times, to its credit, makes a similar point to Reidar, at least thus far, the Coalition represents few “truly national leaders.

The Washington Post points out that Mahmoud Mashadani and Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, once thought certain supporters of the Prime Minister, have recently withdrawn their support. However, the presence of Ali Hatem Al-Suleiman is telling and will likely be a factor in ongoing negotiations to bring in Sunni leaders.

On the other hand, every English article seems to oversimplify Shi’a politics, as per usual. Ignoring the entwined history of Daawa and the Sadr Movement is done at the peril of accurate political analysis and prediction. Furthermore, I continue to believe the release of so-called “Asaib Ahl Al Haq” members may be playing one of several lesser-seen, but fundamentally important actions by Prime Minister Maliki to influence the election, as well as providing continuing potential for Muqtada Al-Sadr’s followers to have a place at the table.

The “leadership” of this faction has close ties to the Muhammad Baqr Sadr, who is also the ideological father of the Daawa. If Prime Minister Maliki can bring some of the looser Sadrists into his coalition, which is still possible, with at least three months before the election, he may be able to pull in the votes he needs. If State of Law is given the first chance to form the new Iraqi government, whether or not Abu Risha, any more Kurds, or Saleh Mutlaq’s post-Baathist group join, I believe its more likely they will fall in with the Prime Minister than the Iraqi National Alliance.

What the press seems to miss is that the makeup of the “List” doesn’t matter as much as the likelihood that secularists and nationalists would rather see a non-sectarian nationalist government headed by Al Maliki. Despite the perception of some that Maliki may be something of a little Saddam, Ammar al-Hakim, though not his father, is an unknown quantity, while his backers, with a long history of ties to Iran, are not.

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