In Iraq, Maliki still looms large months after his ouster

The Washington Post reports: [Former Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki’s looming presence presents a continued challenge for [his successor, Haidar al-]Abadi as he attempts to win back ground from the extremists and repair rifts with Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. Meanwhile, an offensive to retake Tikrit has highlighted the premier’s lack of control over the array of Shiite volunteers and militias that are leading it.

“He still has a role and he’s not finished,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a parliamentarian with Maliki’s state of law bloc. “We haven’t seen the end of Maliki.”

A Western diplomat based in the region said there are deep concerns about what Maliki may be up to, with no doubt that he is trying to undermine Abadi. “He’s irredeemable,” he said.

Maliki appears to wield influence over more members of parliament than Abadi, with more support in the security institutions, he said. However, others doubt his reach, contending he has little chance of a comeback.

On a March trip to a recently cleared town near Tikrit to meet fighters who had driven out Islamic State militants, Maliki greeted the forces as if he were still in power. He said it’s natural that some security forces would feel a sense of loyalty to him.

Since leaving power, he has become a particular champion of the legions of largely Shiite volunteers and militias known as the “popular mobilizations” – many of whom answered a call from Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric to sign up to fight.

“I established it in my time,” he says of the volunteer force that mustered in the dying days of Maliki’s leadership and has led the battle in the city of Tikrit. “And they feel very close to me, or may be loyal to me. Therefore I keep working with them and supporting them and pushing them to fight.” [Continue reading…]

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