Relations between al-Maliki and the four-party alliance that made him Prime Minister have gone through major shifts. Rather than being a representative (or an arbiter) for the interests of the Kurdish Parties and al-Hakeem’s bloc, al-Maliki has lately been siding with the “opposition” on most Parliamentary issues. The Premier is also locked in a bitter rivalry with the leadership of Kurdistan, and more importantly, has been attempting to build his own personal authority at the expense of the parties that brought him to power.
The distance between al-Maliki and his former Shi'a ally, 'Abd al-'Azeez al-Hakeem, have become so strained that, according to al-Shahabandar, “being allied with Maliki right now means opposing 'Abd al-'Azeez al-Hakeem ... while standing with Hakeem implies a position against Maliki.” According to the MP, her bloc’s leader, ex-Prime Minister Iyad 'Allawi, “is on his way to striking an alliance with Hakeem, or has already done so.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament remains without a Speaker since the ousting of Mahmud al-Mashhadani last year. A situation that prevents the normal functioning of the Assembly and keeps important laws (such as the budget law and the oil law) shelved in waiting. Yesterday’s session finally resulted in a vote, but did not produce a winner. Ahmad al-Samirra’i, the candidate of the Islamic Party received 123 votes according to Az-Zaman, placing him ahead of the competition but short of the 138 votes needed to win from the first round (his direct competitor garnered a mere 43 votes.)
According to the paper, a second round of voting should take place today between al-Samirra’i and the candidate of the National Dialogue Council, which is expected to favor al-Samirra’i (the absolute majority is not needed in the second round.) However, Az-Zaman indicates that al-Samirra’i’s backers – the Kurdish Parties and al-Hakeem – have decided to propose new “consensus candidates” to avoid a political battle in the Parliament. These personalities include the veteran Iraqi politician 'Adnan al-Pachachi and MP Hajim al-Hisni.
On a different front, al-Hayat has some good news to report. The Pan-Arab Saudi-funded newspaper says that Sunni mosques in Shi'a areas and Shi'a mosques in Sunni districts are beginning to re-open, a sign of the dissipation of the sectarian strife that has afflicted Iraq for the last years. Many of these mosques were destroyed or gravely damaged during the civil war, making the task of rehabilitation expensive. The Yaseen mosque in Baghdad’s district of Abu Dhseir for example, was reduced to ruins hours after the bombing that devastated a sacred Shi'a shrine in Samirra’ in February 2006, signaling the ferocious explosion of sectarian violence. As a symbolic gesture, the calls to prayer are being made again above the collapsed dome of the Yaseen mosque.
Even in al-Bayya' district, which used to be seen as a bastion of the Mahdi Army, the Sunni al-Rahman mosque was re-opened “amid popular joy from both sects,” al-Hayat reports. While sectarian segregation is still the rule, these acts of normalization could be a prelude for the return of displaced Iraqis to their neighborhoods, especially in the capital. Noteworthy is that the populace and local political factions are supportive of the return of the displaced; the al-Hayat report quoted Sunni religious officials who said that Sadrist leaders contacted them offering to re-open Sunni houses of prayer in Sadrist-dominated districts. Shi'a clerical officials, on the other hand, confirmed that Shi'a Husayniyas that were closed for a long time are re-opening in the Sunni districts of Jihad and Ghazaliya.