Al-Maliki to Face No-Confidence Vote?
As Many as 150 Dead in “Turkmen Massacre”
Readers sometimes ask me if analyzing the news from Iraq every day doesn’t get me down.
It got me down today. Sunni Arab guerrillas, unable to operate as effectively in Baghdad because of the US troop surge, had a suicide bomber drive a truck loaded with explosives into a market in a village on the fringes of the northern city of Tuz Khurmato and detonate his payload. As I write, authorities had counted 130 dead bodies, many of them women and children, and relatives reported another 20 dead. Another 250 or so were wounded, some of them badly, according to the Arabic daily al-Hayat. The latter says Iraqis are referring to the bombing as “the Turkmen massacre.” Some 40 homes, 20 shops, and a dozen automobiles were also destroyed.
Like the detonation of the minarets at the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra recently, this act of terrorism had a strategic purpose. First, even 160,000 US troops cannot provide security to the whole country. The guerrillas are announcing that if they are prevented from operating in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad, they will just shift operations to Samarra (an hour’s drive due north of Baghdad) or Tuz Khurmato.
Moreover, they are saying that they are just as capable of waving a read flag in front of the Shiite bull even if they aren’t in Baghdad. Thus, they hit a sacred Shiite shrine again at Samarra. And Tuz Khurmato is a largely Shiite Turkmen city of some 63,000, surrounded by villages with a similar composition, like the one that was blown up Saturday. Although Turkmen Shiites had in earlier decades been removed from the formal, clerically-dominated Shiism of Najaf, practicing instead a folk religion, in the 1990s Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr reached out to them and brought many of them into orthodox Twelver Shiism. Arab Shiites now feel solidarity with them, and on occasion young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has sent Mahdi Army fighters up to protect them. The Badr Corps of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council has also attempted to attract their loyalty. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denounced the bombing as the work of Sunni extremists who declare that Shiite Muslims are actually infidels.
CBS News is reporting that on July 15, the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accord Front will call a vote of no confidence in the Iraqi parliament against prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. CBS says that Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, who is spear-heading this move, met with US VP Dick Cheney and that Cheney may have approved the move.
There are three Sunni Arab parties in the 275-member parliament. The largest, with 44 seats, is the Iraqi Accord Front. The National Dialogue Front of Salih al-Mutlak has 11 seats. The small Liberation and Reconciliation Party has 3 seats (its founder, Mishaan al-Jibouri has had to flee the country because a warrant was issued for his arrest last fall). According to the Iraqi constitution, any 50 members of parliament can call a vote of no confidence, so the Sunni Arab parties can certainly initiate the process.
They would need 138 seats to unseat al-Maliki, however, and it is not clear that they would have them. The 58 Kurdish deputies will vote for al-Maliki, and he would only need 80 Shiite votes to win the vote. Even with the defection from his alliance of 32 Sadrist MPs and 15 from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), al-Maliki probably still has 80 Shiite MPs behind him (before the defections he had about 130 in his United Iraqi Alliance, so the defections should have left him with 88). It is also not clear that the Sadrist and Islamic Virtue MPs will actually vote with Sunni fundamentalist parties to unseat a Shiite prime minister.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that al-Maliki has put together an alliance of ‘moderate’ parties, including the Da’wa (Islamic Call) Party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (Shiite, leans toward Iran), and the Kurdistan Alliance. Da’wa has 24 seats in parliament, SIIC has 30, and the Kurds have 58. That gives them 112. For a stable government they need another 26 at least. There are some Shiite independents in the United Iraqi Alliance that still support al-Maliki, and he is hoping to peel off one of the three parties (the Iraqi Islamic Party) that make up the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accord Front, so as to put him over the top. (When he made these plans, I don’t think al-Maliki realized that the Iraq Islamic Party’s head, VP Tariq al-Hashimi, was planning to try to unseat him). So it is close, but al-Maliki may still have a simple majority behind him.
You have to wonder, though, how long it will last. Another wild card is that a lot of parliamentarians are out of town or out of country for the summer now, and parliament has difficulty raising a quorum. That so many parliamentarians are not attending might allow al-Maliki’s enemies to unseat him if his own supporters stay in Amman or London for the vote.
How all this fits with al-Maliki’s denunciation of the Mahdi Army or paramilitary of the Sadr Movement is unclear. It may be that al-Maliki hopes the move will help bring the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party into his coalition. If so he may have made a grave calculation, if the Sunnis really are planning on calling a vote of no confidence. Al-Maliki may have failed to get the IIP aboard and may have alienated Sadrist MPs that might otherwise have grudgingly supported him. Just speculation.
The Sadrist Movement denounced al-Maliki’s denunciation of them, according to al-Hayat, saying that it was a smokescreen intended to take the public’s mind off the government’s massive failures in restoring security to Iraq.