Discontent over Maliki threatens US-Iraqi security pact
Wednesday's vote on a security pact to allow US troops to remain in Iraq for three more years is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Maliki's performance.
A wave of discontent with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has spilled over into opposition to a crucial pact governing a US troop withdrawal from Iraq, leaving Iraqi officials scrambling to find enough votes to pass the legislation in parliament.Skip to next paragraph
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In a rare coordinated campaign, several cabinet members have publicly warned of dire economic repercussions and security woes if the deal isn't approved and US forces begin decamping Jan. 1.
Iraq's most influential Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for politicians of all parties and sects to support the deal. But against a backdrop of parliamentary wrangling – which included a brawl in parliament – the government has lowered its expectations for a broad consensus.
While Mr. Maliki has reached across the aisle to recalcitrant politicians in a bid to win support, many are viewing Wednesday's vote on the pact as a referendum on his leadership.
"The opposition to this is not about [the security agreement], it's about Maliki," says a senior US official.
The Shiite prime minister's popularity soared this spring after he sent Iraqi troops to Basra, which had been overtaken by militias. But since then a combination of what has been seen by Sunnis as a heavy-handed approach in Iraqi Army operations in northern Iraq, discontent by the Kurds over his move to consolidate tribal councils in Kurdish areas, and what is seen as a generally autocratic approach has led to a resurgence of criticism, including some calls for a no-confidence motion.
"He doesn't realize that a coalition put him in power," says one senior Iraqi official.
Sunni groups have also been asking for guarantees on detainees released from US prisons. The pact calls for the US to hand the detainees over to Iraqi custody – dominated by Shiite security officials.
If parliament rejects the agreement, the Iraqi government would either have to ask the United Nations to extend the wartime mandate authorizing US troops in Iraq or face the prospect of US forces starting to withdraw personnel and equipment at the beginning of next year.
Maliki, in what was seen as a move to put pressure on those still holding out, said Sunday he would not ask the UN to renew the mandate.
More than 140,000 US troops are in Iraq under the original mandate, which authorized military force in Iraq and gave the US-led coalition sweeping powers. It expires at the end of this year. The new status of forces agreement and framework agreement governing the US-Iraqi relationship calls for American troops to withdraw to bases outside Iraqi cities by next June and to leave the country entirely by 2011. After months of negotiations, it also includes provisions demanded by the Iraqi government, such as removing some forms of immunity against US soldiers and contractors.