Iraqis on Monday marked the one-year anniversary of national elections that were meant to unite them but have instead resulted in an increasingly shaky coalition government and what they say are a trail of broken promises.
In Baghdad’s Liberation Square, several hundred protesters turned out in what they called a "day of regret." Students, professionals, and the unemployed waved fingers dipped in red ink for anger – a parody of the purple-stained fingers they proudly displayed last year as proof that they had voted on election day.
Some pretended to try to bite off their fingers as a sign of remorse for electing politicians they say have isolated themselves in the fortress-like green zone while failing to provide even basic services such as clean water and electricity.
Allawi pulls out of powersharing deal
While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become the favorite target of disdain, no politicians have escaped public anger. The weekly demonstrations, sparked by unrest starting in Tunisia and sweeping the Middle East, have also provided a catalyst for Mr. Maliki’s political rivals to test the coalition government he cobbled together nine months after Iraqis went to the polls.
Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, the main Sunni-backed candidate whose Iraqiya bloc won two more seats than did Maliki’s Shiite coalition, announced on the weekend that he was pulling out of a powersharing agreement.
Allawi told state-run Iraqiya television on Sunday that he had given up his claim to be prime minister after Biden personally asked him to head a new national security council, meant to serve as a counterweight to Maliki’s increasingly autocratic authority and his Shiite-Kurdish coalition.
“Out of respect we gave up the position but in return the national unity partnership should have taken place instead,” Allawi said, adding that Maliki had reneged on a pledge that the post be given specific powers. Allawi said he would retain his seat in the parliament but would not accept a role in the new government.
Wooing Sadr away from Maliki?
For most of last year, both Maliki and Allawi claimed that they had the right to be prime minister but neither had enough seats to form a governing coalition. Maliki cobbled together the current coalition with the support of the Kurds and the surprise backing of hard-line Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who threw his weight behind his former enemy in a deal believed to have been brokered by Iran.
In what appeared to be an indirect warning to Maliki last week, Allawi last week traveled to Najaf to see Sadr, holding a press conference to say that Iraqiya supports Sadr’s demand for better government services.
“There are broad and important areas of common ground between us and the Sadr movement,” Allawi said.
The two are unlikely allies – Sadr’s support is based largely on opposition to the US presence here while Allawi was put in power by the United States as an interim prime minister during the six-year American occupation of Iraq.
Sadr, whose fighters fought US troops and later Iraqi Army troops in the streets, is now a mainstream political leader with 40 seats in parliament and several key ministries. Withdrawing his support could bring down Maliki’s coalition.