In a move that could draw Iraq back into the throws of religious infighting and potential civil war, the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days, a source tell U.S. News.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who leads the Shiite majority government, has used strong-arm tactics to marginalize opponents, mostly among minority Sunnis, says an official at private intelligence company Stratfor. These actions, along with some spill over from the civil war in Syria, have lead to violent protests in Iraq in recent days.
The Iraq government may dissolve the parliament in as soon as 48 hours, according to Iraqi sources and media reported by Stratfor.
This was first reported by Arabic news service Al Arabiya.
"It seems like there is enough momentum built up now where the resolution may be in dissolving parliament and holding fresh elections," says Kamran Bokhari, vice president of Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs for Stratfor.
Regional instability has contributed to the fragility of the Iraqi parliament, leading to deadly demonstrations in recent days.
"[Al-Maliki] is seen by the Iranians and the Iraqi Shiite allies as jeopardizing their communal interests," he says. "Given the way things are heating up in Syria and the rise of Sunnis over there, I think the Sunnis in Iraq are being energized by the phenomenon across the border."
Dissolving the parliament before the next elections in early 2014 is further complicated by the absence of much of the presidency council, which would participate in the temporary caretaker government. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is currently in Germany for treatment following a stroke, and one of the two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashemi, is currently in exile following murder charges.
"Right now I doubt the Maliki government is easily accepting the idea there should be a caretaker government to come in in the interim and take over the elections," says Bokhari. "If that's the position of this government, and you return to sectarian fault lines, we could easily see this descending into violence if there is gridlock that continues for a long time."
He also points to al Qaida operatives in Syria trying to exploit the chaotic situation there. A new sectarian fight in Iraq might prove another "fertile ground for jihadists," Bokhari says.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.
When asked about the protests in Iraq, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday the U.S. ambassador meets weekly and sometimes daily with top Iraqi leaders.
"We have had contacts with the Iraq government," she said. "Our ambassador in Iraq has meetings with all the key leaders, encouraging them to work with each other, to settle issues that they have through dialogue, to protect and preserve the basic tenets of the Iraqi constitution."
Two Iraqi officials told Bloomberg Businessweek they did not call for dissolving the parliament, but did not deny that it could happen.
When asked if the prime minister's State of Law bloc had issued the statement, lawmaker and member of the bloc Khalid al-Asadi told Bloomberg, "It's not true."
"The State of Law didn't ask to dissolve the parliament," he said. "But when any party asks for dissolving the parliament and dissolve the government and call for early election, we will not stand against it."
Maliki senior aide Izzat al-Shahbender told Bloomberg "this was one of options we discussed in the National Iraqi Alliance, which we have raised long ago, but we didn't issue a statement."