Iraqi prime minister clinging to power
Iraq's embattled prime minister has fought off an attempt to push him out of office, aided by divisions among his opponents and Iranian intervention on his behalf.
Nouri Al Maliki's tactical victory averts a potentially destabilising contest to replace him, at least for the time being, but perpetuates the sectarian-based deadlock that has paralysed the country for years.
In the latest setback for those trying to unseat Al Maliki, the country's president said on Sunday he would not ratify a petition for a no-confidence vote because it lacked the needed number of signatures.
An Iraqi lawmaker who supports the prime minister says Iran is helping him by trying to buy time. Tehran is pushing for a two-month grace period during which Al Maliki, who has close ties with the Islamic Republic, would ostensibly try to appease coalition partners who accuse him of monopolizing power.
At the root of the standoff is the unresolved power struggle between Iraq's three main groups — the majority Shias and minority Sunnis and Kurds — following the removal of Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of 2003.
Elections in March 2010 were inconclusive. Al Maliki was able to form a national unity government but its component parties do not trust and in some cases detest each other.
The continued impasse has raised the possibility of renewed sectarian violence and hampered plans for rebuilding the country ravaged by a decade of fighting.
Six months after the departure of the last US forces, hopes seem to be fading that oil-rich Iraq can quickly transform into a functioning democracy.
"It's a sensitive and tense situation and anything could go wrong," analyst Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group said of the ongoing political crisis.
Al Maliki, a Shia, is under fire for breaking promises to share power with his partners in a unity government that includes the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc, Kurdish parties and loyalists of radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr.
Sunnis who believe he is targeting their leaders with politically motivated prosecutions and Kurds who think he is hostile to their northern autonomy have their own reason to dislike the prime minister.