BAGHDAD — Inside the walls of his shaded villa in the heart of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, Nouri al-Maliki greets his visitors in the same marble-floored office where he worked for eight years as prime minister.
As one of the country’s three vice presidents, he now holds a largely ceremonial position in the government of his successor, Haider al-Abadi.
But whether Maliki has given up his quest for power is increasingly in question as he sets about widely publicized battlefield tours, meetings with tribal elders and visits abroad.
In an interview at his villa, he denied any desire to reclaim his former position and pledged support for Abadi, who six months into the job is attempting to quell the chaos convulsing Iraq. Maliki has been widely blamed for much of it, with policies largely seen as sectarian.
But he does not rule out that he could one day return.
“Based on my popular support base, which still exists and is strong, it’s possible,” he said, indicating that he is setting his sights on Iraq’s next election, due in 2018.
“Legally and constitutionally, it’s possible,” he said. “But it’s the Iraqi people’s choice.”
Maliki’s looming presence poses a challenge for Abadi as the premier attempts to win back ground from Islamic State extremists and repair rifts with Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. Maliki’s reemergence comes as an offensive to retake the city of Tikrit has highlighted Abadi’s lack of control over the Shiite volunteers and militias that led the fight.