Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has lost key support in his bid to hold onto power as the country collapses around him. Both members of his ruling coalition and parts of the Iraqi Shi’a religious establishment, led by the powerful Ayatollah Sistani, have withdrawn their backing. Even worse, Iran, which supported his rise to power, may be turning against him. The Wall Street Journal reports:
In recent days, high-level delegations of Iranian military officials and diplomats held a flurry of meetings in Baghdad and the Shiite religious capital Najaf, where they were told that Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has lost the confidence of all but his most loyal inner circle, Iraqi officials with knowledge of the meetings said.One Iraqi official briefed on the meetings said Iranian representatives signaled during their visit that Tehran has “really started to lean away from Maliki as a candidate.”Also critically, Mr. Maliki’s bid to stay in office has, say prominent Shiite politicians, run into opposition from Iraq’s top Shiite spiritual authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has become central to the grinding talks between political blocs to form a government.
Iranian support has been key for Mr. Maliki in the past. In particular, one high level U.S. diplomat recently alleged that as America prepared to withdraw from Iraq in 2010, it was Iranian support that kept Maliki in power. During the current crisis, Iran has been providing advisors and material support to the Iraqi central government as it battles a Sunni insurgency.But the Iranians would be loathe to risk an open breach with Ayatollah Sistani. If they, as well as Sistani, are now losing faith in Maliki, this could represent a turning point.Maliki’s self-aggrandizement and overtly sectarian ruling style have alienated moderate Sunnis and Kurds alike. Although ISIS and the Kurdish independence movement currently have a lot of momentum, moderate representatives of both groups have stated that Maliki’s removal would help reconcile them to a united Iraq.One thing is certain: Once again, the Ayatollah Sistani shows that he is one of the canniest figures in Iraq. If there were more people like him there, the country’s outlook would be considerably brighter.