How does Iraq’s Maliki exploit Kurd disunity to weaken Abadi’s govt?

Former Iraqi PM Maliki has been blamed for being instrumental in the sacking of the country’s Finance Minister Zebari

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Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads the State of the Law Coalition, has been blamed for being instrumental in the sacking of the country’s Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari. In a press conference, Zebari himself explicitly pointed the fingers at al-Maliki for having orchestrated his removal from office on Sept. 22.

Zebari also alleged that al-Maliki is working to weaken Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s administration by removing one minister after another. Zebari became the second minister who has been sacked following the removal in late August of Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi, even as the operation to liberate the country’s second largest city Mosul loomed.

While the sacking of the two ministers, after the parliament grilling for corruption, is seen as the Abadi administration pressing ahead with its reforms drive, long awaited by the Iraqi people, others see the removal of Zebari as a way for al-Maliki to sneak back into power for a third term as a prime minister.

The sacking of Zebari, considered the third most powerful man in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), founded by Iraq’s first non-Arab President Jalal Talabani, comes as a surprise in the backdrop of a traditionally unified and solid Kurdish stance.

Head of PUK Alaa Talbani “raised her voting paper in a sign of an explicit approval” on withdrawing trust from Zebari in parliament, said Member of Kurdistan Democratic Party Arafat Akram .

This is for the first time that such a thing has happened in the Iraqi parliament after the unified stance of Kurds was long taken as an example to be followed in Baghdad.

Today, it seems that Kurdish contentions are being exploited in Baghdad and the ambitious al-Maliki is counting on them the most to get back into power and set himself as the sponsor of reform that Abadi began carrying out a year ago.

Zebari’s charges

Zebari said in his press conference: “The State of Law Coalition and al-Maliki, who not only hold hostile positions against Kurdistan but also against the Iraqi government headed by Abadi, seek to make ministers step down in the light of the war against ISIS and the economic crisis at a time when we are trying to get loans.”

Amid all this, al-Maliki worked on withdrawing trust from the Defense Minister, evicting the Interior Minister and discharging the Finance Minister and all other Ministers one after another.

After the criticism that Zebari and the leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party addressed to him accusing him of ousting the ministers, al-Maliki portrayed himself as indifferent towards what’s being said and confirmed that what happened is a victory for him.

In his response to Zebari, al-Maliki said: “Here we must say that if every Minister or official who is discharged by the House of Representatives for evidence of his corruption holds a press conference and then criticizes the head of the biggest parliamentary entity whose member interrogates him, al-Maliki is then handling insults with patience and openness to be able to expel the last corrupted person from the political system.”

The conflict between al-Maliki and the Kurds is widely known as the latter have accused him many times of breaking his promises after they backed him to become prime minister. The conflict reached its peak when al-Maliki deprived Kurdistan of its share of the budget causing an economic crisis in the region, after the Kurdistan government made deals to sell oil independently, causing an economic crisis in the Kurdistan region.

Despite this, it is clear that al-Maliki is deepening the split among Iraq’s Kurds while trying to get close to the opponents of Kurdistan leader Masoud al-Barzani when the finance minister Zebari was voted out of office and the MPs of two Kurdish parties - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Gorran (Change) party - voted in favor of dismissing the minister.

Al Maliki approached the Kurdish opposition, which is accused of being backed by Iran, when he welcomed the agreement between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Gorran (Change) party after receiving in his Baghdad office idelegations from the two parties on June 17, 2016.

In a statement released by his office, Maliki confirmed once again his support to the agreement between Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Gorran (Change) party. In his opinion, this agreement contributes to strengthening the unity and resolving the rival positions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan regional government. Maliki insists on the obligation of consolidating efforts in order to establish political stability and a new spirit that includes the opinions from different parties in the work of the executive and legislative wings of government.

Controversial meeting

Maliki’s visit to Sulaimaniyah on July 18 for a meeting with the PUK has also raised much controversy.

Iraqi and Kurdish media outlets such as rudaw.net close to Barazani has mentioned that this visit came while Maliki is working on regaining the Cabinet from Haidar Al Abadi, his fellow in the Islamic Dawa party (Islamic Call party) and its leader.

Busnews website has also mentioned that Maliki visit is deepening the split between Iraq’s Kurds and aims to gain the support of Kurdish parties to ouster the current Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi and support Maliki’s return.

Al Maliki was also aiming to reach an agreement with the leaders of the PUK and Gorran (Change) party to coordinate between these two parties and the State of Law coalition and the Dawa party headed by al-Maliki himself and in order to attract other Kurdsish parties to coordinate together like the Kurdistan Islamic group led by Ali Bapir, considering that his approach is close to the other two Kurdish parties.

Despite all his attempts, it is still very early to speak about al-Maliki regaining access to power because he has a lot of new opponents among the Shiite parties in Iraq that are ready to call for action and move against him. They consider that the roots of corruption in Iraq go all the way back to al-Maliki’s mandate. The Sunni parties are also against al-Maliki as they consider his policies as sectarian and repressive against them.

To read the original article published by Al Arabiya's arabic website, click here.