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Iraq's Violence Plays Into Maliki's Hands

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The wave of violence gripping Iraq intensified Monday when a double suicide car bombing killed at least six people and wounded 20 outside the heavily fortified entrance of Baghdad's Green Zone.

The bombings --- likely carried out by Sunni groups linked to al-Qaida -- could allow Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to strengthen his hold on power, says J. Edward Conway, a World Politics Review contributor and former U.S. Defense Department analyst covering Iraq.

"With the ongoing attacks, he's basically allowed to play the security card," Conway told Trend Lines this morning.

"Some are worried that al-Maliki is acting more and more like an authoritarian leader," he added. "He's yet to appoint anyone to head the Ministries of Defense and Interior, so he's presently acting as the de facto head of both, along with the Iraqi Special Forces."

The situation has motivated widespread antipathy among Iraqis who have protested, most notably in late-February's "Day of Rage," against Maliki's poor governance and failure to improve social services.

"If the attacks continue and stability and security become the main issue, this all works in Maliki's favor by providing him with the resources to maintain his creeping authoritarianism at the expense of good governanceand institutional development," Conway said.

While he added that Maliki most certainly has no role in the attacks, nor is he openly allowing them to occur, Conway stressed that the security deterioration certainly appears to be facilitating a concentration of power around the Iraqi prime minister.

Memories are still fresh from the bloody ethnic conflict that threatened to tear Iraq apart in 2007. With the current round of carnage being credited largely to the Sunni al-Qaida in Mesopatomia, it remains to be seen what role Iraqi Shiite insurgent groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haqq, Kataib Hezbollah or Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army may come to play in the violence.

"There's this ongoing debate within the intelligence community about whether or not the Shiite insurgency will attack U.S. forces as they withdraw from Iraq," says Conway, noting how some Shiite groups have threatened attacks if the withdrawal does not occur swiftly enough.

While that might seem like a motivation for the United States to keep to the withdrawal timeline, the ongoing al-Qaida car bombings could create an impetus for U.S. forces to stay.

"This is a catch-22 for the U.S.," says Conway. "If the U.S. stays, there's increased prospects for security and stability that will allow institutions and better government to grow. But it would also bring into play the Iranian-backed Shiite insurgency groups who have said that if the U.S. stays they'll be forced to get back involved and start engaging in attacks."

J. Edward Conway is presently a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He wrote this WPR feature article last May about the threat of Shiite violence targeting U.S. troops as they prepare to withdraw from Iraq.