On October 7, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the country’s 640,000 security personnel are draining the budget and hindering reconstruction projects. Maliki’s statement comes during a time when Iraq should theoretically be bolstering its security apparatus: the country’s security situation has already started deteriorating (LINK: http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090823_deteriorating_situations_iraq_and_afghanistan), the country’s second national elections will be held in December and, as the US gradually withdraws its forces, Iraqi security forces will be increasingly responsible for maintaining law and order. If Maliki seeks to reduce the security force’s drain on the country’s budget, he will have to cut spending on equipment, training, uniform, and salaries. However, the Prime Minister’s statement is not rooted in his concern for reconstruction but is rather a product of the uncertainty of his political future.
While the US is preparing to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the main challenge to handle remains the integration of different political factions – namely Sunnis - into the politically contentious security apparatus. Thousands of Sunnis who fought against US forces after 2003 invasion later joined US troops against al-Qaeda after forming a deal between the US military and tribesmen. This breakthrough had a significant impact on the security situation in Iraq because it significantly decreased sectarian violence which otherwise would have brought the country on the verge of a civil war. Roughly 88,000 Sunni Arabs who are organized within the Awakening Council are now waiting to join Iraqi security forces. Though the US is a strong supporter of this transformation, the Maliki government has little incentive to follow this strategy.
Looking from Baghdad, Awakening Council – or “Majalis al-Sahwa” in Arabic - may pose a danger to Shiites’ grip on power within the Iraqi security administration. Maliki also thinks that a Sunni armed opposition will be challenging the unity of Iraq in the long run. He has put a target to integrate 20 percent of Awakening Movement into Iraqi security forces and the remainder into the civilian government in an attempt to dismantle the looming Sunni threat. But according to the Pentagon’s report on Security and Stability in Iraq (http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/9010_Report_to_CongressJul09.pdf), only 7 percent of Sunni armed forces have been pulled out of the Awakening Council, which is far from pointing out a sectarian reconciliation within the Iraqi security apparatus.
Maliki has tried to cast himself as the strongman to lead a nationalist, central, non-sectarian Iraq. His recent announcement calls into question the political sustainability of his position. One of Maliki’s chief concerns is the development of the country’s post-Baathist security structure. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has long been dominated by Shiites. The former Interior Minister Baqir Jabr Al-Zubeidi, who is a senior member of Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, promised a Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry and police force. And although the present Minister Jawad al-Bulani is an independent member of Iraqi National Alliance, he has been unable to curtail the Shi’a clout on the administrative body. The Shiites are cold to the idea of reintegrating former Baathists into the government and view the Sunnis’ political and military emergence as a threat to their power.
In December, Maliki’s State of Law (SoL) will face-off against the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), an Iran-backed coalition of several Shiite parties. While the SoL prevailed in the country’s provincial elections earlier this year, there is no guarantee that it will enjoy the same success in the future (LINK). The coalition faced a disorganized Shiite campaign in the provincial elections, but, by uniting several prominent Shiite parties, the INA now seems to have cornered this demographic. SoL also performed dismally in Sunni areas, and it is unlikely that the inhabitants of ‘Kurdistan’ will support any candidate with a nationalist vision of a centralized Iraq. Al-Maliki’s chances of victory depend on whether he can attract the Shiites away from the INA, but if he plans on running as Iraq’s post-sectarian leader, he cannot afford to do so at the expense of the Sunnis and the Kurds.
What Maliki may do is uncertain: he may halt plans to integrate the remaining 70,000 Sunnis of the Awakening Council, scale back the central government’s funding of the Kurds’ regional army, the Peshmerga, or may opt to do nothing - this may very well be election season rhetoric. The Prime Minister is skating on a thin ice by struggling to keep the balance for the upcoming elections. On the one hand, he needs to get a significant Shiite vote to keep his government in power. To this aim, he has to intrigue Shiite voters to support his SoL instead of INA, which is now more capable of claiming Shiite votes in January. Assuring the Shiite stakeholders that they will not lose their dominance within the security structure might be a fair compromise. By claiming that the country’s security forces have hampered progress on reconstruction, Maliki can justify policies which are favorable to the Shiites like axing new projects—like those which would integrate the Sunnis—without making it seem politically or racially motivated.
However, if he fails to do so, this deal would hamper Maliki’s election campaign which bases on non-sectarian, non-ethnic Iraqi unity. His efforts to cement this plea would be profoundly damaged if he will be considered as a lop-sided candidate favoring Shiites. If this ordeal bears fruit on Maliki’s behalf, it is highly likely that the outcome will drag the sectarian compromise into stalemate. Disgruntled Sunni militias will back off their support for the Maliki government and get under al-Qaeda influence by turning their back to the central government again. The natural result will be more violence and therefore more tightening of security, unlike what Maliki preaches.