Iraq's increasingly powerful Shi'ite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, started accumulating power following the 2010 parliamentary elections. He secured a
second term -- after a drawn out eight-month power struggle - by promising to share power with other political blocs, including Iraqiyya (a more secular
party that has attracted Sunni support) and the Kurds. That promise quickly disintegrated. Instead, Al-Maliki preferred to assert personal control over the
security forces, target senior Sunni officials with arrest, and otherwise eviscerate many of the safeguards enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. His
actions ignited widespread protests in Sunni majority provinces in December 2012 that continue as of writing. Today, many in Iraq's Parliament fear that he
is a dictator-in-the-making.
Al-Maliki, in turn, suspects his opponents of wanting to unseat him in favor of a more pliant prime minister who will bend to their self-interested wishes
and would be too weak to lead the country. The Iraqiyya party, Al-Maliki's political competitor, has proven to be politically inept. It has allowed its
internal rivalries to weaken the party, and now many of its senior leaders are discredited in the eyes of the Sunni street.
And the Sadrists bowed to Iranian pressure and supported al-Maliki's second term before they, too, were outmaneuvered and marginalized. Now, their leader -
the violent militia leader and firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - is actively rebranding himself to be a voice of sectarian harmony and moderation in Iraq
in an attempt to build a larger political base. Sadr joined with Iraqiyya and the Kurds to denounce al-Maliki's decision earlier this week to delay
provincial elections in Nineveh and Anbar by six months because of security concerns.
Relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government ("KRG") - the largely autonomous part of Northern Iraq -- and the central government have rapidly
deteriorated, too. Not only are the Kurds convinced that al-Maliki seeks to oppress them just as previous governments did, but also fear he intends to
cripple their economy.
The KRG is dependent on its 17 percent share of the federal budget and is constructing an oil and gas pipeline to Turkey to allow it to export hydrocarbons
(without Baghdad's approval). Baghdad and Erbil strongly disagree over who controls hydrocarbons exploration, development, and export under the Iraqi
Constitution, as well some of actual territory where the oil and gas is located. The Kurds have angered Baghdad by granting oil concessions to the likes of
Exxon Mobil and Chevron without Baghdad's authorization. Today, the KRG continues to assert physical control over parts of the disputed territories.
Iraq's political picture is further complicated by the divergent policies of three key external actors: Iran, the U.S., and Turkey.