Maliki's reform deadline looms but political backfire likely

It was a clever move to counter popular unrest: reform in 100 days or else. But as the deadline looms, the Iraqi prime minister’s rivals are using his 100 day plan against him.

In late February Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared that his government and its departments had 100 days in which to make some serious improvements. Two thirds of that time has now passed.

When al-Maliki first instituted the time limit on Feb. 27 this year, political analysts in Iraq said the Iraqi leader was being too optimistic. Many felt al-Maliki was simply trying to appease those involved in countrywide protests during which locals demanded such things as more social freedoms, improvements in state services: electricity and ration shortages are major causes for complaint in Iraq, and an end to rampant corruption in state institutions.

According to al-Maliki’s critics, the 100 days plan was simply a politically expedient way of declaring a truce with protestors without actually instituting any real change. And now they say that the deadline is drawing closer and not much has happened.

Al-Maliki said that if there had not been some reform by June 7, then those responsible for inaction would face the sack. "I find myself obliged to ask for a change in implemented laws, ministers, deputies, governors, managers and inspectors if it is proved they are not capable of responding to the call of duty and to people's demands," al-Maliki said at the time.

But, as experienced politician Wael Abdul Latif, who has been both a state governor and a minister in a former administration, pointed out: "Al-Maliki knows more than anyone else that his initiative is just about throwing dust in the eyes of people. An individual or a government that has failed to provide services over the past five years cannot succeed in changing that in 100 days.”

Early last month, on April 5, al-Maliki repeated that he felt the government was capable of achieving desired reforms within the space of 100 days. However this time, he also added that there might be some extensions granted “for some of those officials who are moving towards implementing reforms but who have not yet been able to finish the job.”

Political opponents said this latest statement was just an attempt to bargain for more time. “The 100 days is not long enough to produce any tangible, concrete results,” Abul Latif said. “Even if they had another 100 days that would not be enough.”

Some of those behind local protests are not holding out much hope either. “The time limit set by al-Maliki will not bring any magic solutions. And the people who set the time limit know this far better than anyone else,” said Abdul Razzaq, a former student in film studies at the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts who manages the “Baghdad Will Not Be Kandahar” Facebook page – the page’s name refers to more liberal Iraqis’ protests against the hard line Islamist policies such as those in Kandahar, Iran, but the actions organized via the page have also encompassed issues such as better security on the streets and regular electricity supply.

“So far we have seen no concrete results,” Razzaq complained. “A tour of Baghdad city streets shows the reality: the deterioration in city services and no electricity or water supplies for most of the day,” he said

In fact, as Razzaq pointed out, the 100 day deadline may have different consequences for reform altogether. It may prove to be “the straw that will break al-Maliki’s back - if his allies in the ruling coalition abandon him to confront the protestors alone,” Razzaq said.

Maysoon al-Damluji, a member of parliament and official spokesperson for the Iraqiya list confirmed that her powerful voting bloc, which rules the country in a tenuous alliance with al-Maliki’s voting bloc, are also considering using the 100 day deadline to their advantage. “We are discussing the possibility of removing al-Maliki's government - despite the fact that we are part of that government,” al-Damluji said.

Rumours indicate that al-Maliki may even be in trouble with his own senior ministers. A website run by a former leading figure in the prime minister's own Dawa party recently posted comments purported to have been made by Iraqi transport minister Hadi Al-Amiri - he originates from the Badr party. “You may be ready to drown yourself, but we are not ready to jump in the river with you,” al-Amiri apparently told al-Maliki in reference to the 100 days’ deadline.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, whose party belongs to the Iraqiya voting bloc, appeared to agree, saying that al-Maliki should resign, “if he [al-Maliki] is not capable of controlling the government’s performance in time for the deadline he has set.”

On the streets of Iraq, resentment continues to simmer. And some demonstrators say they are just waiting for the 100 days deadline to expire, on June 7. Word on the street has it that political parties with massive support – such as those involved in the Iraqiya list as well as the powerful and popular Sadr movement – will be organizing huge demonstrations around the country at that time.