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World Policy Journal: Machiavelli in Mesopotamia: Nouri al-Maliki Builds the Body Politic

Author: Ned Parker, 2011-2012 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow
Spring 2009


In this article, Ned Parker describes the ruling style of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the implications for the future of democracy in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ-The country has gone through hell. The morning explosions, round the clock mortaring, day and night gun battles. The bodies dumped on the periphery of neighborhoods. The Shiite and Sunni families who fled their homes after threat letters were slipped under their doors.

All that is finished now. Iraq's open civil war, lasting from 2006 until late 2007, has ended. The war affirmed the durability of the new Shiite-led Iraqi state. What has come since is an extended truce, in which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun to consolidate his power and mastery over Iraq's security forces, asserting his will on the provinces.

For now, those rival factions-tribes, insurgent groups, Shiite militias-have come to see the benefits of forging alliances withBaghdad and the consequences of failing to do so. As the situation calms, the country has started to resemble not a Western-style democracy, which was the goal when the United States invaded, but the authoritarian model that governed Iraq until 2003: a place where a strong leader guarantees stability and citizens rally around the state,with one crucial difference-Iraq's Shiite majority is now in charge, not its onetime Sunni elite. After years of violence and the displacement of millions, Shiites and Sunnis are slowly finding ways to accommodate one another, all under the watchful eye of a single flag and leader in Baghdad.

For the moment, that leader is al-Maliki.To anger him is to risk endless harassment, exile, or imprisonment. To strike an alliance with al-Maliki is an opportunity to amass power and protection from enemies.


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