Iraq's Prime Minister al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad

(Reuters) Nuri al-Maliki is once again positioning himself as Iraq’s most powerful man, poised to return as kingmaker in a fight for influence that could decide Iraq’s fate as a unified country after the coming battle to recapture Mosul from ISIL.

Two years after he was pressured to leave office by both the United States and Iran for failing to stop ISIL terrorists from sweeping across the country, the former prime minister still leads a powerful Shi’ite parliamentary bloc.

In recent weeks his followers have been using their authority in parliament to dismantle the cabinet of his successor, Haidar al-Abadi.

They have held corruption hearings, forcing out the government’s leading Sunni and Kurdish figures, Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi and Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who both deny corruption and say they were pushed out to hurt Abadi.

Maliki’s office denies that he has any plans to return to the premiership, and his allies say he is more likely to try to name an ally as the next prime minister rather than take back the role for himself.

But there is now little doubt that his aim is to sideline Abadi and restore the power of his own Iran-backed Shi’ite faction, which minority Sunni and Kurdish politicians say could put Iraq’s future at risk even if it vanquishes ISIL

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