Over the past 24 hours, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has watched the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiite leadership announce its support for the newly appointed prime minister-elect, former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Haider al-Abadi. Al-Abadi is a senior leader and member of parliament in Iraq’s Shiite Islamist Hizb al-Dawah party as well as al-Maliki’s own State of Law coalition. Along with the major Kurdish and Sunni Arab political figures, Iraq’s Shiite community in particular has come out strongly against al-Maliki’s bid for a third term as prime minister, leaving him with a rapidly dwindling support base.
In one day, al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, which exited general elections in April as the largest single political coalition with 92 of 328 parliamentary seats, reportedly saw its representation shrink to the low tens of seats. Political partners and formerly neutral Shiite blocs are abandoning al-Maliki’s side in droves. Meanwhile, the National Alliance, a mostly Shiite Islamist platform encompassing political challengers such as Ammar al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar bloc, increased its seat tally to more than double that of al-Maliki, currently at around 170 according to media reports.
Smaller Shiite parties such as the Badr Movement, Islamic Fadhila, Asaib al-Haq and Iraqi Hezbollah — all of which, except for the latter, command powerful militias — have announced their support for al-Abadi and the National Alliance. Notably, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Shahrastani, one of al-Maliki’s most important allies and advisers, has switched camps — along with his supporters — to back al-Albadi. Even al-Maliki’s former backers in Tehran have joined a chorus of Western and Arab nations in expressing support for new leadership in Baghdad. Both Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Ali Akbar Velayati, chief international affairs adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Aug. 12 that Iran supports a legal process that will choose a replacement prime minister in Iraq.
While al-Maliki’s support base is certainly dwindling, it is unlikely that the sudden loss of political backing is enough to eliminate the institutional links and power established over more than eight years of leadership. In fact, al-Maliki was rumored to have prevented the Council of Ministers from meeting in Baghdad on Aug. 11 due to a series of threats targeting each of the leaders. While it is doubtful al-Maliki will remain as prime minister moving forward, he will use this power as leverage to ensure that he and his followers’ interests are met before stepping down. According to a spokesman for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq — and confirmed by Stratfor sources — a dialogue to persuade al-Maliki to take a lesser position in the future government, particularly the vice presidency, is ongoing.
Rumors persist that al-Maliki is seeking assurances of immunity to allow him to extend his political career, albeit in a diminished post. And despite the State of Law announcing today that it would not participate in the ruling coalition if al-Abadi becomes prime minister, Stratfor has received indications that lawmakers from the party will probably be granted key positions in the new government.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, which has led ruling coalitions in Baghdad since its formation in 2008, is unlikely to survive the current crisis as a leading political force, given that it is largely a creation of al-Maliki centered on his cult of personality. From the larger Shiite perspective, however, the State of Law coalition remains relatively new and expendable compared to Hizb al-Dawah. The far more institutionalized Dawah, which has existed since the 1950s and remains the premier Shiite party, has proven resilient after persistent splits in the past and will continue to lead Iraq’s majority Shiite population for some time to come. Therefore, al-Maliki and the State of Law’s fall from grace does not signal a breakdown of Shiite power in Baghdad. It does, however, allow Iran and Iraq’s Shiite community to ease al-Maliki out of power without undermining the larger Shiite position in Iraq.