Maliki's tenure on ice as rift with Kurds widens
The Iraqi premier is increasingly at risk as cracks in his Shiite-Kurdish coalition grow in the waning days of the Bush administration, his other main ally.
(Page 2 of 2)
Iraq's cabinet passed a draft oil law more than a year ago but Kurdish officials withdrew their support saying it gave the central government too much control. After agreeing to allow Kurds to cut oil deals on their own in exchange for supporting the draft legislation, the Oil Ministry recently rescinded that offer.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Kurds, as well as Sunni political factions, also want a more formal power-sharing deal with Maliki's ruling Shiite coalition, more participation in the Iraqi Army, and checks on Maliki's power, which critics say has grown too much. And in the background of these Kurdish-Maliki feuds looms the issue of Kirkuk, the oil-rich city claimed by both Kurds and Arabs.
One of the main flash points has been the issue of tribal councils, which are government-financed groups that Maliki is setting up to facilitate reconciliation and fight insurgent activity. But the Kurds have protested the plan and say the move is really an effort for the central government to extend its control.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who also heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said he would contest the legality of the councils in court. Maliki's Shiite partners in the coalition, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, also oppose the councils, which they say bypass local governments.
For his part, Maliki accuses the Kurds of contravening the Constitution by unilaterally deploying Kurdish soldiers outside of the country's semiautonomous Kurdish north.
"Things like who has the authority to tell regional forces where to go – that's part of the teething pains of institution building," says the US official.
Maliki has proved in the past that he can endure political attacks. Early last year he appeared to be teetering on the brink – with members of his coalition in open revolt. With a parliamentary deadlock holding up passage of the oil law and other legislation seen as key US goals, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear they would not tolerate efforts to remove him, Iraqi officials say.
"The Kurds have sustained his government when the Sunnis walked out. The Kurds were instrumental in bringing the Sunnis back to the government, yet the minute they came back Maliki tried to reach a compromise with the Sunnis saying, 'Let's unite against the Kurds,' " says a Kurdish official.
"Last time last year it was Bush and Rice who saved him," says the official. "He has squandered the opportunities he had."