Iraq's present and most likely future prime minister Nouri al-Maliki remains out of sight even after ongoing vote-counting confirms his party's lead in the country's March 7 general election.
Monday, March 15, debkafile's intelligence and Iraqi sources revealed for the first time that the Shiite prime minster had survived an attempt on his life with moderate-to-serious injuries. They reported that on March 11, his convoy had been attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic gunfire after his car was hit with an explosive device, and that he was now confined to the American military hospital for treatment.
The incident has been blacked out by the Iraqi and American authorities to prevent its discovery. However, the unexplained cancellation of Maliki's scheduled TV and radio broadcast to the nation on Sunday March 14 had members of his State of the Law party wondering what had happened to him.
According to our sources, he planned the broadcast to accuse foreign elements outside Iraq of attempting to kill him in order to remove him and tilt the election against the will of the Iraqi voter. He did not intend naming those elements. Maliki has still not made the broadcast, suggesting he is no condition to do so. But the longer he remains invisible, the more urgent it is for him to show the Iraqi public a sign of life.
By Wednesday, March 17, with more than eighty-percent of the votes counted, Maliki's rival, former prime minister Iyad Allawi and his secular Shiite-Sunni al-Iraqiya bloc held a narrow lead of 9,000 votes.
To claim the premiership, Maliki must show himself to the public
But because the prime minister's party carried seven provinces compared with Allawi's five, his State of the Law is emerging as the biggest party in the new parliament. The last votes to be counted will determine this close race, but Maliki's continued absence could tip the scales against him.
Sources close to the injured prime minister, asked by DEBKA-Net-Weekly, pointed the finger at Saudi intelligence services as engineering the attack to prevent the Shiite prime minister from heading the next administration in Baghdad. They may succeed if he is slow to recover. They claim that the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin, visited Baghdad secretly a few days before the attack and again on the day itself to await its results. When he heard Maliki was still alive, he left the Iraqi capital.
In reconstructing the crime, those sources do not rule out the complicity of Syria's military intelligence service. They suggest Damascus may have provided the hit-men, while Riyadh put up the intelligence and funds, first mounting a series of disastrous terrorist attacks going back to last October to prove Maliki unfit to govern.
According to our sources, the Iraqi prime minister is not quite helpless.
Starting to fight back against the attempt to keep him from assuming office in Baghdad, he has sent his bureau chief Tareq al Naim to Tehran to call on Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders and officials close to the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for help.
Iraqi sources say he will ask Tehran to rally its supporters in the Iraqi parliament for defeating Allawi's bid to gain the premiership.