As Iraq’s government teeters on the brink of collapse due to various boycotts and withdrawals, a new partnership seems to be emerging. Rumour has it leading Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq will be made
The next Defence Minister? Saleh al-Mutlaq (Centre) one of Iraq’s three deputy Prime Ministers.
With his floundering government close to what appears to be collapse, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is desperately trying to shore up support. And the most recent rumours about who will join al-Maliki’s government next concern two members of the opposition Iraqiya bloc, Saleh al-Mutlaq and Jamal al- Karbouli.
Al-Karbouli is the head of the head of the National Movement for Reform and Development, more commonly known as the Solution, or Al Hal, party. But it is rumours about al-Mutlaq that are particularly interesting because in the past al-Mutlaq, also one of Iraq’s three deputy Prime Ministers, has described al-Maliki as a dictator. In return al-Maliki tried to have him removed from his position. And as he did so, al-Maliki also issued an arrest warrant for another leading member o his party, Deputy President, Tariq al-Hashimi, who has since fled the country.
For many this was the beginning of a serious out of political infighting between Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim blocs that continues to this day. Since then that dispute has spread to the streets, where Sunni Muslim protestors in several Sunni Muslim-dominated provinces of Iraq have been demonstrating. Al-Hashimi, al-Mutlaq and al-Karbouli are all Sunni Muslims as is most of their political bloc, the Iraqiya bloc. Al-Maliki and most of his State of Law bloc are Shiite Muslims.,
In January of this year al-Mutlaq submitted his resignation, ostensibly “to protest the recent developments in Iraq and because the demands of protestors are not being met”.
“We haven\'t yet decided to return to the government,” al-Mutlaq told NIQASH this week, regarding rumours that he was now planning to rejoin al-Maliki’s cabinet at a time when many others were boycotting it. “It all depends on how the government responds to the demands raised by protestors. We asked al-Maliki to hold a cabinet session dedicated to discussing the list of demands.”
Rumours about the return of al-Mutlaq and al-Karbouli to government started to circulate on March 17 after the pair was invited to dinner with al-Maliki.
A source who knew of events at the meeting, but who didn’t want to named, told NIQASH that several concerns were raised at the dinner meeting. Firstly, the two Sunni Muslim politicians said they thought that any announcement of their return to the government might create a new crisis in the Iraqiya bloc, which has seen several factions break away recently. The two politicians were also concerned about death threats made against them.
While attending protests in western Iraq in December 2012, al-Mutlaq was actually attacked by Sunni Muslim protestors.And as others have also speculated, it’s also likely that al-Mutlaq wouldn’t be so sad that elections have been postponed in these areas - especially in light of his shrinking popularity with voters in Sunni Muslim areas.
Death threats have been made against both al-Mutlaq and al-Karbouli. Threats have also been made against their families and Al-Mutlaq has been described as an opportunist. And there’s no doubt the two men will be politically isolated from former allies.
“Al-Maliki has noted the men’s fears and understands the reasons behind them,” the source continued. “However he is impatient for the two politicians to return to the fold. Time is against him. Especially considering the uncompromising position taken by [former al-Maliki ally and leader of the Sadrist movement] Muqtada al-Sadr.”
Al-Maliki is worried that, following the boycott of cabinet meetings by Sadrist movement ministers, that the whole political group may pull out of his coalition government, the source said.
Should the two men choose to join al-Maliki, their move would cause an even greater split in the Iraqiya party, which is already plagued by inner conflicts. "MPs who return to the Cabinet are making decisions that are contrary to the stand taken by the Iraqiya bloc,” one Iraqiya MP Hamza al-Kartani told NIQASH. “They are rebels. But their actions are outside of our control.”
Whatever does happen, it seems that there will be one main winner in this political contest of wills and brinkmanship: the Prime Minister, al-Maliki. Currently his ruling coalition is teetering – currently there are almost two dozen absent Ministers.
If al-Mutlaq returns to the Cabinet, rumours have it that he might get the plum job of Minister of Defence, a position currently held by al-Maliki himself. In terms of this though, there are apparently still disagreements about what kinds of powers al-Mutlaq would have in this job, especially when compared to power held by the commander of the Iraqi armed forces.
The return of al-Mutlaq and al-Karbouli to the Prime Minister’s fold will also mean changes for another major political group in the Iraqi parliament, the Sadrist movement. As the Iraqiya bloc re-aligns itself the leader of the Sadrists, Muqtada al-Sadr, also Shiite Muslim, will find himself even closer to his old political enemies, a number of Sunni Muslim parties and the Iraqi Kurdish group. Al-Sadr has been moving in that direction for a while.
As yet though, the stories about al-Mutlaq and al-Karbouli are just that: stories. It hasn’t stopped members of al-Maliki’s party making bets though – they’re already competing to see who can be the first to break the good news about the defections to their side, to the local media.