The past couple of days have seen two developments in Iraqi politics that haven’t quite received the attention that they deserve.
Firstly, as at least some of the media has noted, the all-Shiite National Alliance (NA) that leads the new Maliki government has selected Ibrahim al-Jaafari as leader of its parliamentary bloc. Many would say it was an obvious choice: Jaafari was reportedly favoured as premier candidate by both the Sadrists and Iran before Maliki managed to sway those forces behind himself instead. At the recent meeting of parliament where the new government was sworn it, Jaafari held a longish speech that seemed a little out of place at the beginning of the ceremony as if he was screaming for a role beyond that of an ordinary deputy: He may now have found it.
Even less noticed is the fact that the Nujayfi bloc of Iraqiyya, also known as “Iraqiyyun” (“Iraqis”), has elected Hasan Khalaf al-Jibburi to head their parliamentary faction of around 10 deputies (they sometimes claim as many as 20). This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the reason NA has gone out of its way to elect a single leader is the fact that it needed to do a merger between Maliki’s State of Law (89 deputies) and the Sadrists (40 deputies) to grow in size and trump the argument by Iraqiyya that it was the biggest bloc in parliament as it emerged from the elections with 91 deputies. Having lost that contest, it now appears Iraqiyya leaders are happy to revert to their constituent elements, and it will be interesting to see whether others (Hashemi, Eisawi, Karbuli, Mutlak etc.) will follow Nujayfi’s lead or stay loyal to Ayad Allawi.
A second interesting question is whether the grey-zone elements on the margins of the National Alliance, such as Fadila and ISCI, will fall in line with the rest of the Shiites or form their own smaller parliamentary blocs on the Iraqiyyun pattern.Regardless of the eventual outcome, the idea of a single parliamentary leader as a defining criterion for constituting a parliamentary bloc or kutla seems reaffirmed by these developments.