The Thug of Baghdad Has Fallen at Last

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has at last agreed to step aside. His replacement, Haider al-Abadi, has already been asked by Iraq’s president to form a new government. Mr Maliki was under intense pressure to make way for Mr Abadi, a deputy speaker of parliament, who has won broad international support to form the next Cabinet in Baghdad.

On 21st June the Washington Post reported that Nouri al-Maliki will not ready surrender power and unless chief ally Iran insists that he goes.

Maliki, playing for time, had accused President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution by approving the nomination of Abadi, another Dawa member, and had vowed to take legal action.

In a TV broadcast on Wednesday 13th August, Maliki announced that he was awaiting a federal court decision on his claim that the entire exercise was unconstitutional. Hours after his speech, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for Maliki to be replaced with a more conciliatory figure. In a further blow to Maliki’s prestige, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran expressed their support for prospective Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Nouri Kamal al-Maliki arrived on the Iraqi political scene in 2006. He emerged as a compromise Prime Minister from relative obscurity. Recently the New York Times suggested that he returns to that obscurity as soon and as peacefully as possible.

He returned from exile to Iraq after Saddam was toppled in 2003, becoming a Member of Parliament and deputy chair of the de- Baathification committee under the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was appointed prime minister on 20 May 2006.

In early 2009 he formed the broad-based State of Law coalition. The alliance campaigned on a platform of a unified Iraq in the March 2010 elections, losing by a mere two seats to the mostly Sunni-backed al-Iraqiyya alliance of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On 21 December 2010, Maliki was again appointed Prime Minister.

After the 2010 elections Mr Maliki abandoned his consensus building strategy in favour of concentrating power among his mostly Shiite allies. At the behest of Iran he sent Iraqi militias to fight alongside the Assad’s regime forces, deepening sectarian rifts in the country and angering Sunnis throughout the Middle East. He failed to establish security and stability and was despised in some quarters as an Iranian puppet, blamed by a majority of Iraqis for Iraq’s polarised sectarian politics.

Many Iraqis accused Mr Maliki of nepotism and mismanagement of Iraq’s vast oil wealth. Both of his sons-in-law worked for his office and his son Ahmed was head of his security. Under his watch, many parts of Iraq remain poor and undeveloped.

In 2011 Mr Maliki resisted pressure from Washington for an extension of US troop presence in the country, and presided over the formal end of the US military presence in Iraq. That proved a disastrous decision. The security situation deteriorated, and thousands of Iraqis were killed.

As soon as the Americans withdrew from Iraq, he instigated the issuing of an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a senior member of al-Iraqiyya, and Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab politician. Hashemi was accused of conspiring against the government. He was sentenced to death in absentia in September 2012, and has since stayed Turkey. Many observers in the Middle East were critical of the decision. Maliki denied that the charges against Hashemi were politically motivated.

Since 2012, Mr Maliki faced both popular protests and an armed insurgency, led by groups fighting for an “Islamic State” in the region.

The decisive shift in attitudes towards al-Maliki occurred in June 2013, when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), pushed Iraqi government forces out of several cities in the north and east of the country.

Mr. Maliki’s position had been fatally weakened since the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda spinoff, took over nearly a quarter of the country in June 2014. The sudden collapse in June 2014 of the Iraqi army is reminiscent of the swift disintegration of Saddam’s army at the gates of Baghdad in 2003.

The collapse of the Iraqi army was swift and shocking. Iraqis, speaking on Arab satellite TV channels, blamed Maliki’s sectarian policies, and the corruption of military institutions.

Maliki had purged the commanders he suspected of disloyalty, replacing them with officers whose qualifications were not military experience but sectarian affiliations and personal loyalty. The alienation of the Sunni element of Iraqi society, a third of the Iraqi population, helped anti-government insurgents and made the collection of human intelligence in the Sunni areas extremely difficult.

Poor intelligence, politicisation, corruption, low morale, desertions; all have weakened the Iraqi army.

The situation was seized upon by ISIS, sensing an opportunity to promote itself as the champion of Sunnis against the Shiites led government of Nouri al Maliki, who is now seen throughout Iraq as largely responsible for the debacle. His credibility has plunged to zero.

Despite serving two “four year” terms of dismal failure, he was still intent on seeking a third term and possibly a fourth term. Al-Maliki has been an unmitigated disaster for Iraq. Very little differentiated him from dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar al Assad.

Mounting pressure from the US resulted in Iraqi lawmakers choosing Haider el Abadi, a member of al Maliki’s own Shiite party, as his eleventh-hour replacement. Many observers believe that the change in leadership could help to unite the country and heal Iraq’s sectarian wounds. According to al Arabiya Friday 15th August Sunni leaders are prepared to participate in a new Iraqi government if certain conditions are met. Formidable challenges will face the new Prime Minister.

Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.