By Mohammed A. Salih for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
In a scene surprising to many, a smiling Nouri al-Maliki disembarked from an Iraqi airliner July 18 in the city of Sulaimaniyah and was received by senior officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two major parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Maliki said his visit was merely a normal meeting with PUK and Gorran (Movement of Change) leaders in the wake of the two parties' having formed an alliance earlier this year.
Many also noted, however, that the trip was taking place amid unconfirmed reports of his hopes of taking back the premiership from Haider al-Abadi, a fellow Islamic Dawa member and that party's leader. General elections are due to be held in 2018.
Once thought as poised to become Iraq's new strongman of sorts, Maliki had to vacate the office of prime minister in 2014, with many blaming him for the dramatic territorial sweep of the Islamic State (IS) through Iraq. Defying expectations that his reluctant relinquishing of the premiership would spell his end, Maliki has been working relentlessly behind the scenes for the past two years to retain the stature of a powerful politician and is now reported to be preparing for a comeback.
Maliki's visit to the Kurdistan region came at a time of deep fissures among the major Kurdish factions and disagreement over how to deal with the government in Baghdad. The two dominant parties in Sulaimaniyah, the PUK and Gorran, formed an alliance in mid-May that has put them at odds with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).