Iraq's Maliki says he won't seek 3rd term, in possible reverberations from Egypt
Sunday, February 6, 2011
BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that he will not seek a third term in office, in a sign that even Iraq's newly installed and democratically elected government may be feeling the heat from the tumult in the streets of Cairo.
"I have personally decided not to seek another term in office after this one, a decision I made at the beginning of my first term," Maliki said in an interview with Agence France-Presse. Iraq's new constitution does not set term limits for the prime minister, but Maliki said he will seek a constitutional amendment restricting the number to two.
Maliki began his second four-year term in December, after spending 10 months fending off a challenge from secular leader Ayad Allawi, whose bloc won two more seats in parliament than Maliki's in nationwide elections in March.
His comment coincides with an upsurge of scattered protests across the country demanding better services, jobs and an end to corruption, apparently inspired by the pro-democracy demonstrations underway in Cairo and those that toppled Tunisia's long-serving president last month.
Police in Najaf broke up an attempted demonstration in support of the Egyptian people Saturday after the governor of Najaf refused to grant permission. The gathering was organized by the Najaf office of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to police Col. Ali Jarayo.
On Thursday, police injured four people when they fired into the air to quell an unruly crowd of about 700 stone-throwing demonstrators protesting poor services in the southern province of Diwaniyah, according to provincial officials there, and a second protest in the province Friday was dispersed without incident.
In another indication that the government is anxious about the fallout from Egypt, Maliki issued a statement Friday saying he would cut his salary by half. He is reputed to earn about $350,000 a year.
No one is calling for the overthrow of the Maliki government, which represents all the major factions chosen by voters in an election judged largely free and fair. The next election isn't due until 2014.
But the protests serve as a reminder that even democratically elected governments are not immune to popular unrest if they fail to provide employment and services. Six years after Iraq's first democratic election, most Iraqis endure long hours every day without electricity, water shortages are common and jobs outside the public sector are scarce.
Maliki's critics have frequently accused him of dictatorial tendencies, most recently following a court decision he sought granting his office control of several independent agencies, including the election commission and the Central Bank.
But an official in Maliki's media office, Ali Musawi, denied that the prime minister is acting in response to the Cairo demonstrations.
Maliki's personal belief in the need for term limits predates the democracy protests elsewhere in the region and stems from his conviction that Iraq must guard against a future repeat of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, he said.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not afraid like the others because he is elected by the people," he said. "He's not Ali Abdullah Saleh [the president of Yemen] or any other president like that."
Special correspondent Ali Qeis contributed to this report.