If the United States’ pressure on al-Maliki had any positive effect it wasn’t immediately apparent. Instead of diplomatic moves to diffuse the crisis, Nouri al-Maliki rejected all calls for conciliatory moves and sounded the trumpets of challenge this past week.
In the face of Western and moderate Arab nations’, pressures on al-Maliki to be more accommodating to the Suni minority, he flatly rejected that suggestion, and then, presumably with the aid of U.S. advisers, launched a military effort to take back some of the territory lost to The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS. His forces were bolstered by a large number of Shia volunteers as the sectarian aspect of the civil war in Iraq became even more pronounced.
Meanwhile, as much of the world called for al-Maliki’s replacement, he sought a “vote of approval” from his Parliament by signaling that he would ask them to convene at once and form a new government. With his party assumed to be in control of the Parliament, as a result of the June 1 elections, al-Maliki expected it to rubber stamp the legitimacy of his rule and ask him to lead the government for a third term. Some readers may wonder at the timing of this move, in the face of so many calls for him to step down and let a more concilliatory (towards the Sunnis) government emerge. It is precisely for that reason that he wanted a convening now, rather than allowing the opposition forces to rally strength around some alternative candidate. This also explains his move now to retake Tikrit, the former home of Saddam Hussein. Though there is still some confusion as to what the situation on the ground is, al-Maliki has claimed victory in Tikrit, fueling a wave of sectarian enthusiasm among much of the Shiite populations in Iraq.
In the first call for Parliament to convene, ninety members walked out after a break, leaving a number just short of that needed to legally convene the Parliament. In the past, parliaments in Iraq have taken up to ten months to elect a Prime Minister. According to Iraqi law, Parliament has seventy-five days to form a new government.
Why, one might ask, can’t al-Maliki simply be replaced by a coup or other extra-legal means? The answer, of course, lies in our ostensible commitment to democracy. Running for Member of Parliament in Baghdad, al-Maliki won by the greatest majority of any modern leader in Iraq. He garnered 732,000 votes, which was almost 100,000 votes more than he received in winning in 2010. His State of Law Alliance won ninety-two seats in the new Parliament, with another thirty going to members closely allied to al-Maliki. Shia parties garnered sixty seats, Kurdish parties, fifty-three, with sixty going to a number of Sunni Arab and nationalist parties. The remainder went to Independents.
As if there wasn’t enough confusion emanating from Iraq, in the past few days they received four jets fighters from Russia. Now the U.S. is sending in three hundred troops in addition to the three hundred advisers already in place. Small steps of escalation and Cold War-like competition. Nevertheless it does represent more boots on the ground for what events of this past week demonstrate is but a furtherance of a sectarian civil war.