Nouri al-Maliki has managed to ride out some strong political storms in his tenure as Prime Minister, and it hasn't been luck that saw him through them. Even when Sunni and Shi'ite Cabinet members walked off the job and his parliamentary coalition hung by a thread, Maliki has managed to operate from strength, and his new coalition appears to have shed the extremists:
Nearly two months after Sunni Arab ministers walked, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to have weathered a political crisis that once threatened to bring down his government
Using a mix of brinkmanship, political cunning and strong U.S. support, the Shiite leader now appears to have seized the political initiative from his opponents. ...
Six Sunni Arab ministers quit al-Maliki's government in early August over his failure to meet demands that included the release of security detainees not charged with specific crimes, disbanding militias and wider inclusion in decision-making on security issues. ...
However, one of the six ministers who pulled out, Planning Minister Ali Baban, returned to his post last week. He was expelled by the Iraq Accordance Front and is currently in New York with al-Maliki. Another Accordance Front member, deputy prime minister Salam al-Zobaie, met with al-Maliki on Thursday against the advice of his comrades and is said to be considering a comeback.
Maliki has proposed replacing the missing Sunnis with tribal chiefs of the Anbar Awakening. Perhaps sensing that Maliki would win a large public-relations victory in western Iraq by promoting his alliances with the tribes, the Sunni politicians have begun reconsidering their boycott. They won their seats in a different time for Sunnis in Iraq, when their constituencies wanted to undermine Shi'ite rule through insurgencies and alliances with al-Qaeda affiliates. The ground has changed, and the Sunni representatives have not quite caught up.
Maliki's coalition no longer includes the worst of the Shi'ite extremists, Moqtada al-Sadr. He has been shunted off to the sidelines, an affect of his run for the border after the start of the surge. Maliki adroitly aligned himself with Sadr's opponents in the south and then allied them with the Kurds in the north. That coalition has not only kept him in power, but it has given him enough credibility to reach past the Sunni politicians in the National Assembly and work directly with the tribes in the west.
Time Magazine reported not long ago that George Bush felt the need to mentor Maliki and help him learn leadership within a democracy. So far, Bush's tutelage seems to be paying off -- and Maliki may still have more pleasant surprises when the Assembly gets down to serious work. None of it will matter, however, unless the Assembly can show that it can handle its legislative responsibilities.