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Iraq: 'Crisis Summit' Aims To Shore Up Government

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is fighting to keep his government from collapsing (epa) August 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for a crisis summit of Iraqi political leaders to chart a course for his faltering unity government. The move follows the withdrawal of the largest Sunni Muslim bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, from the cabinet. In all, half the seats in the cabinet are now empty. The head of Radio Free Iraq's Baghdad bureau, Moayed al-Haidari, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke about developments.

RFE/RL: Why has the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki reached such a low point that he must call a crisis summit to try to strengthen it?

Moayed al-Haidari: The main reason for the crisis is that Iraqis are not accustomed to dealing with democracy yet. We know that this government was established as a result of an election, so it should be acceptable to all partners. But what happened from the beginning is that many parties did not welcome this cabinet. On the other hand, most of the ministers from the different parties behave as though the cabinet positions they occupy are their own personal ministries, and not enough respect is given to their technocrats. The new crisis stems from many parties pushing to bring the government down.

"The question is not one of Sunnis and Shi'a; it's deeper than that, it's a question of the politicians themselves. In the background you have other forces that affect things more than the problems of Sunnis and Shi'a."

RFE/RL: The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front and Shi'a loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr have quit the government, while the secularist bloc of former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is boycotting cabinet meetings. Does the unity government really still exist?

Al-Haidari: The problem in Iraq now is the suffering of the Iraqi people, that's the most powerful issue right now. Millions of Iraqis are asking what promises of "later" mean; they say we need more services from the government, we need more work. And I think al-Maliki is now in a bad situation if other parties continue to push him into difficult corners.

RFE/RL: What can the prime minister do to secure vital Sunni representation to replace the Accordance Front? Can he look to recruit other Sunnis?

Al-Haidari: The question is not one of Sunnis and Shi'a; it's deeper than that, it's a question of the politicians themselves. In the background you have other forces pushing, maybe some Arab countries, maybe some others pushing from behind, and such pressures affect things more than the problems of Sunnis and Shi'a. I think the government lost a lot of its character and efficiency when it did not rely sufficiently on [public service] technocrats to show the public that it could help provide them with a better life.

RFE/RL: Has al-Maliki's paralyzed government become irrelevant?

Al-Haidari: The biggest problem Iraq faces is what comes after al-Maliki. If the government collapses now, I think the situation will become more complicated. If we believe in democracy, in elections and in parliament, we have to acknowledge the rules of the game; under these democratic rules we chose so-and-so -- so why are we rejecting them now? This is fundamental.

RFE/RL: Can the UN serve usefully as a conciliator among the Iraqi factions, and as a promoter of dialogue with Iraq's neighbors?

Al-Haidari: The United Nations can play an important role in the Iraqi crisis. We know that in the last few days the UN decided to increase its participation in Iraq. This is a clever decision at this time. The UN is widely respected in Iraq and if it plays a part, there is a chance to find some new solutions.

Searching For A Way Forward

Searching For A Way Forward
A boy looks out from his Baghdad home (AFP)

LOOKING BEYOND AL-MALIKI: RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo led an RFE/RL briefing about the changing political landscape in Iraq, focusing on efforts to gain the upper hand in the event that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki falls.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Opposition Appears Set On Bringing Down Al-Maliki

Former Premier Pushing New Plan For Reconciliation

Al-Sadr Prepares For Post-Coalition Era

Sunni Ultimatum Rocks Al-Maliki's Position

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.