Some Iraqi media outlets have been a buzz these last few days with unconfirmed reports of Prime Minister Maliki apparently wanting to coalesce his electoral list - "Rule of Law" (dulat al-qanun) - with the other main Shia electoral list. Teaming up again would practically guarantee the new amalgam of winning a plurality of votes in the national elections on January 18, 2010, but would probably deprive Maliki of his desire to continue as prime minister and to allocate 50% of the total seats the list wins to his candidates. Thus, these reports seem a little unfounded. Maliki himself put the kibosh on these rumors today by saying they are false.
However, this story presents us with a good opportunity to reflect on the current state of Shia politics in Iraq. Though the two main Shia political parties - Da'wa and ISCI - have temporarily parted ways, they used to be partners in the largest alliance in Iraqi politics from 2005 to 2008. The United Iraqi Alliance consisted of Maliki's Da'wa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the two main Kurdish parties, every now and then the Sadrists, and many other smaller parties as well. The Iranians were instrumental in putting this alliance together back in 2005, since their top priority was to see a political coalition dominated by Iraqi Shia who have had historically close ties with the Iranians. Many major players in ISCI spent decades in exile in Tehran, and its militia (the Badr Brigades, which is sort of integrated into the Iraqi security forces) was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s. Da'wa and the Sadrists tend to be more home-grown and are generally perceived to be less close to the Iranians.
Throughout the last four years, both ISCI and the Sadrists have grown tired of Maliki and wish to replace him. Meanwhile, Maliki has seen his leverage and personal status rise after his party won a plurality of votes in the provincial elections of January 2009. Moreover, the fact that Maliki campaigned for those elections on a platform of nationalism and the rule of law, he thinks he can eschew his old Shia partners and do just as well in the upcoming national elections without them. There was talk back then of Maliki standing up to Tehran (who wanted to see a united Shia list), taking a stand on principle and eschewing a sectarian political dynamic for one based on nationalism and issues. However, Maliki's decision to temporarily bid farewell to his old Shia coalition partners probably had more to do with personal motives. Everyone else in that coalition wanted him gone as PM - if Maliki were to stay, his political career would have been over. Now Maliki has decided to roll the dice and see if his list can garner more support in January than the Iraqi National Alliance (the new name for the massive alliance of Shia and Kurdish parties - they added the word 'national' to convince you they're not sectarian anymore).
In short, I don't find these reports that Maliki wants to merge his list with the old alliance he just left credible. He'd only do it if ISCI agreed to nominate him as prime minister again, a demand ISCI has repeatedly refused. What happens in the aftermath of the national elections in January is a different story, however. If Maliki wins a plurality, he may have to seek the support of his old Shia buddies to form a government. Of course, that whole process of coalition forming come post-election time will be so byzantine, it makes no sense to try to predict the outcome now.