Maliki's governing style raises questions about future of Iraq's fragile democracy

Source Washington Post

When a series of giant billboards depicting the face of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki mysteriously appeared on a central Baghdad square several weeks ago, the response from Maliki's office was swift and decisive. Police were dispatched to remove the posters, which echoed the displays that had been ubiquitous under Saddam Hussein. If Iraq's prime minister indeed has dictatorial tendencies, as his detractors allege, they do not include self-promotion of the Hussein variety. Maliki's aides say the prime minister was furious, and they suspect the billboards may have been raised to discredit him at a critical moment in the negotiations for a new government - to fuel perceptions that he is another Iraqi strongman in the making. Whether he is such a strongman is among the critical questions that loom over Iraq's young and still-fragile democracy as Maliki embarked Tuesday on his second term as prime minister. "He has the potential to be a dictator," said Faleh Jabar, an Iraqi scholar who heads the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies. "It's my biggest fear, because that would destroy our democracy."