Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bid to remain in power isn't looking too good. Maliki's State of Law coalition did moderately well in the March elections, securing 89 of Parliament's 325 seats. His top rival, former interim leader Ayad Allawi, won 91 seats for his Iraqiya coalition. Both coalitions are currently lobbying other parties to join with them in building the 163-seat majority required to lead the next government. But Maliki, who became Prime Minister in May 2006, has suffered damaging political blows this week, and the odds that his coalition will prevail appear at an all time low.
The Sunni Arabs who make up about 25% of Iraq have never loved Maliki. But the block's rising political prominence and worsening tension with the Prime Minister may become enough to doom him. A Baghdad facility under the jurisdiction of special military units that report to Maliki secretly detained hundreds of Sunni Arab men in recent month, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday. Though Maliki denied knowledge of the facility, he defended his use of special prisons and military units as essential to security. Regardless of the extent of his connection to the facility, the reports will worsen his already contentious relationship with Sunni Arabs. Not long after Maliki's election in 2006, General Peter Chiarelli, then the number two U.S. general in Iraq, warned the Prime Minister that his practice of denying basic services to Sunni communities was feeding sectarian violence. Maliki relented, but his hostility towards Sunni Arabs still bled into official policy. He has long accused prominent Sunnis of being secret Baathist party members, who are officially barred from participating in government because the party was once headed by Saddam Hussein. In January, his government banned hundreds of well-known Sunni Arabs from the impending elections, including several high-profile candidates. (Under international pressure, Maliki repealed most of the bans.)