Over the past four years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has overseen a gridlocked Parliament, contended with renewed sectarian conflict and made a host of political enemies. But when Iraqis go to the polls on April 30 for the first parliamentary elections since U.S. forces left in late 2011, they are expected to reward the 63-year-old Shiite politician with a third four-year stint. Few here expect Mr. Maliki, who has been in office since 2006, to rein in his efforts to dominate the government, repair relations with the Kurds or end his suppression of Iraq’s Sunni minority—a religious group that has grown increasingly ostracized and radicalized. With an eye toward the premier’s re-election, “pretty soon, everyone is going to want to be Maliki’s friend,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recently visited the country. “Very little that’s happened over the last four years seems to matter” to Iraq’s voting public. With campaigning set to open on April 1, Mr. Maliki has been touting his populist credentials. In a speech last week, he blamed political opponents for difficulties including traffic and horrific violence, pledging to personally address each issue.
“The thing that has always saved Maliki is that he’s like the Bill Clinton of Iraq,” said Kirk Sowell, a Jordan-based political-risk analyst who publishes Inside Iraqi Politics. “He knew how to say exactly what people wanted to hear.”
When soldiers from the semiautonomous northern region of Kurdistan shot and killed a well-known Iraqi journalist at a central Baghdad checkpoint on Saturday, television cameras showed the prime minister personally negotiating an end to the dispute and overseeing the alleged killer’s arrest.
But the public appearances and rhetorical flourishes belie deeper frictions. Sectarian fighting and terror attacks killed least 7,818 civilians in Iraq last year, the most since 2007, according to the United Nations. The country’s Sunni-majority western province of Anbar has come to resemble a war zone, with al Qaeda-aligned militia grabbing and holding strategic territory.
Full Article: Tensions Percolate Ahead of Iraqi Election – WSJ.com.