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Within Shia ranks, meanwhile, it has become clear that Maliki is being challenged by two main groups.

The SIC has begun, since early this month, openly saying that it wants Maliki removed. It even held a meeting with a delegation from al-Iraqiyya to coordinate efforts. The SIC is still smarting from unresolved disputes during the time of the elections. Maliki is said to view SIC leader Ammar al-Hakim as an arch-foe, and wants to make him pay for having tried to prevent him retaining the premiership. The SIC has been close to the Kurds since the days of its founder, Mohsen al-Hakim, and has always maintained ties with al-Iraqiyya and its regional sponsors. It has effectively become part of the Kurdish-Sunni bloc that aims at removing Maliki.

The second challenge comes from the Sadrists, who, as usual, have been employing a policy of extortion to maximize their gains. They have been discreetly touting possible replacements for Maliki from within their own ranks, with encouragement from some of the prime ministerís opponents. At least two prominent Sadrist figures have been in contact with regional players in this regard. Sources close to the Sadrist movement are convinced that it would have joined the anti-Maliki camp were it not for its acute mistrust of the SIC.

That leaves other fences to be mended: with the Shia clerical leadership. It was forced to intervene recently, via its representatives, to protect Iraqi Central Bank Governor Sinan al-Shabibi from Malikiís attempts to sack him. Shabibi is a highly regarded professional, but Maliki turned on him after a dispute which began when the prime minister sought to borrow money from the national reserve to fund government expenditure.

When Shabibi refused, for practical and legal reasons, Maliki accused him of conspiring against him, and blamed him for a variety of failings unrelated to the central bank governorís job. He went to such extremes that the clerical leadership felt impelled to intercede by expressing its confidence in Shabibi and the upholding the central bankís independence. A variety of Iraqi political leaders did likewise, including Nujayfi who received Shabibi on 8 April. Parliament later sent a letter to Maliki stressing the need for the central bank to remain independent.

Malikiís attack on Shabibi is seen as part of a broader effort by the prime minister to assume control over all independent state bodies and bring them under the authority of his office.

With Syria preoccupied with its internal crisis; Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey backing the Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds, and SIC; and with the Sadrists scheming and rivals emerging within his own party, Maliki knows he has only one place to turn to. Only Tehran can keep him in power. The parliamentary majority needed to oust him is in place. All it requires is an Iranian green light, without which none of the Shia players are likely to take any action.