Al-Maliki support wanes

Iraqi leader's fate is linked to success of crackdown

April 22, 2007|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's first constitutionally elected government might rise or fall with the success of a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad, Iraqi politicians and analysts said yesterday.

Amid growing signs that the government of national unity is beginning to fracture, experts say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has increasingly invested his political survival in the ambitious, two-month-old security campaign. After a promising start, which boasted a noticeable decline in certain types of sectarian attacks, violence is once more increasing.

Yesterday, the Fallujah city council chairman, a critic of al-Qaida who took the job after his three predecessors were assassinated, was killed. Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili was gunned down by attackers in a passing car as he was walking outside his home in central Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, according to police.

Last week, at least 172 people died in five car bomb attacks around Baghdad, marking one of the deadliest days ever in the capital. Before that, a suicide attacker infiltrated Green Zone security to detonate a bomb inside the Iraqi Parliament cafeteria.

The daily body count of victims killed execution-style is rising again, and residents are expressing outrage at some U.S. tactics, such as constructing giant concrete walls to separate Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

Such complaints could spell trouble for al-Maliki, critics say.

"The current government has attached itself to this security plan," said Kathim Turky Jameel, a political officer with the Iraqi National Accord, the political movement led by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "But what has it accomplished so far other than more explosions? The Iraqi people have run out of patience."

Allawi, who has made no secret of his desire to win back the prime minister's job, and other political rivals are moving quickly to take advantage of al-Maliki's troubles. Backroom jockeying and secret negotiations among major political players to realign themselves have led analysts to predict a major shake-up.

Al-Maliki "is getting much weaker," said Wamid Nadhmi, political science professor at Baghdad University. "Because of his politics, it's hard to see how he will be allowed to remain in such a position."

Yesterday, Allawi's party said it is continuing to cobble together a rival coalition in Parliament that could replace al-Maliki.

Every week, new rumors pop up about shifting alliances, internal party disputes and unlikely partnerships, such as speculation that Allawi's secular bloc might join forces with the ultra-religious followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The two sides clashed bitterly in Najaf and Sadr City in 2004.

Over the past month, al-Maliki's coalition suffered two major defections. First the Islamic Virtue Party, or Al Fadila, pulled its 15 members from the leading Shiite political bloc, United Iraqi Alliance. Then al-Sadr, once a major supporter of al-Maliki, withdrew six Cabinet ministers from the government to protest al-Maliki's refusal to set a deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

On the streets of Baghdad, government support is waning. Most support the goals of the security crackdown, but in the aftermath of last week's huge car bombings, victims and witnesses cursed al-Maliki's failure to stem the violence.

"I don't think the current government is doing its job properly," said Amin, 19, a T-shirt vendor in Baghdad who declined to give his last name.

He and others said the unity government was foundering because sectarian-based factions do not share a vision.

U.S. officials have sent mixed messages about their support for al-Maliki. Military leaders hope a successful security program will help speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but they are also insisting that al-Maliki demonstrate progress in coming months. Specifically, the Bush administration wants al-Maliki to push through an oil-revenue sharing agreement and reach out to Sunnis by relaxing restrictions preventing former Baath Party members from working in the government.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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