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Expect the unexpected. How many times have we been told that? A few thousand times maybe? And yet no matter how many times we are told that life is full of surprises, something happens everyday that catches us completely off guard.
On Monday, April 16, a major split in the Iraqi government occurred when Moktada al-Sadr, a rebellious Shi’ite cleric, pulled six of his members from the cabinet because the government refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. While the full effects of this sudden change are still unknown, many hazard a guess as to what the future might hold for Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that switching out members could be beneficial in the long run. ‘Anything that can be done that advances the reconciliation process, perhaps including broadening representation in the cabinet, probably would be a positive thing,’ he said. Unfortunately, this is an overly optimistic view of the situation.
In truth, Prime Minister Nuri al-Makili is not a very strong figurehead. He is not well-liked and actually depends greatly on support from Sadr and his party members. The only reason that al-Maliki is in office today is because he received the backing of Sadr during the political race one year ago. Sadr holds a tremendous amount of influence over the people compared to the influence al-Maliki has ever had, and has been able to mobilize his followers numerous times with great efficiency to protest things such as the lack of basic community services and, of course, the pullout of American troops. Right now, if Sadr really wanted to, he could overthrow Maliki and assume the role of Prime Minister.
This possibility is a very serious one. Al-Maliki lacks the political sway that Sadr has, and has even asked Sadr permission to go ahead and appoint new officials to fill the vacant seats in the cabinet. If al-Maliki needs to ask someone else if it is alright to move forward, he doesn’t hold a lot of promise for the future.
As prime minister, al-Maliki should be able to stand his ground without having to rely on the backing of other members. Of course, having the support of others does not hurt, but you do not want to depend on people simply nodding and agreeing with you because someone else told them they had to.
Should tensions between al-Maliki and Sadr grow any worse, Iraq could be in big trouble. Even though this is the first time that Sadr has carried out a threat, it may not be the last. He still has 30 members in Parliament and if he feels that things are not going his way, there is nothing stopping him from pulling those members out too. Sadr has been known to operate outside of the law before, and who’s to say that he won’t do it again? Should Sadr decide to set up his own government, the country would split itself apart wider than ever before and be reduced to rubble.
Only time will tell what will really happen in Iraq, but if the Iraqi government is not careful, it could lead to an even greater amount of bloodshed. Maliki needs to work on gathering public support by showing the people that he does not have to depend on others for every little thing. He needs to show the people that he can be a strong leader, and prove that he wants to build a stronger Iraq.

Elizabeth Rico is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at ricoe@uci.edu.

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