Nouri al-Maliki — Iraq’s ruler-in-waiting

Foreign Policy reports: Little Venice, a lush residential neighborhood of canals and gardens, lies nestled in the Green Zone, an abrupt departure from the checkpoints, traffic, and blast walls across the rest of the Iraqi capital. Its expansive villas used to belong to Saddam Hussein’s top henchmen; now, they are the homes of Iraq’s new political elite. And in the heart of this neighborhood, just as he did for the eight years when he ruled Iraq, lives Nouri al-Maliki.

Though Maliki was forced out as prime minister in September, he is far from being a political exile. He is one of the country’s three vice presidents, and is still the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party, from which Iraq’s last three prime ministers have hailed. Perhaps most importantly, Maliki — a workaholic known for regularly putting in 16-hour days — has been bolstering his ties to Iran and the powerful Shiite militias that sprang up in reaction to the Islamic State’s torrid expansion across Iraq last year.

The man who was once America’s point man in Iraq blames the United States for abandoning his country in its time of need. In an interview with Foreign Policy, he said that Iraq was “almost under a siege when it came to receiving weapons” during the crucial period last year when the Islamic State was preparing to seize Mosul.

“Our plan was to rely on American weapons, but the American side did not provide the necessary arms,” he said. “It was as if they did not realize the level of the threat that the Iraqi government was facing.”

In the absence of the United States, Maliki argued, Iraq had no choice but to look to Iran for support.

“The Iranian weapons are the ones that enabled the Iraqi forces to fight daesh,” Maliki said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “If weapons were available to us according to the [security] agreement between Iraq and the United States, we would not have needed the Iranian weapons.”

It has long been an article of faith among both loyalists and enemies that Maliki, who often appears on Iraqi television stations, is plotting a political comeback. One Western official told the New York Times that Maliki was “absolutely convinced” he would return to power sometime this year. While he denied earlier this month that he had plans to return to office, he also added then, “If the Iraqi people decide to elect me … I won’t decline.”

The struggle for power between Maliki and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is far more than a personal rivalry. At stake is a debate within the Iraqi Shiite community over how to wield power over the Iraqi state. [Continue reading…]

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