Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January, 2009

A Litmus Test for Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 30 January 2009 23:59

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari arrived in Basra on January 24. His mission in the southern oil port was to stump for his Reformist Front, a breakaway faction of the Da‘wa Party of the current premier, Nouri al-Maliki, ahead of Iraq’s January 31 provincial elections. His itinerary included visits to the Five Miles area – often described as a stronghold of the movement loyal to the young Shi‘i leader Muqtada al-Sadr – as well as a rally at a sports stadium. Only days earlier, he had been preceded by Maliki himself, and in the first days of 2009 numerous other national politicians trooped to Basra as well… Full story here.

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Daawa Sides with the Opposition in Parliament (But Quarrels with Them in Wasit)

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 18 January 2009 23:59

In an interesting move, a member of Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), Abd al-Hadi al-Hasani, has signalled sympathy with the views of the opposition in the question of who should succeed Mahmud al-Mashhadani as parliamentary speaker (see entry for 23 December 2008 below). While the main coalition partners of Nuri al-Maliki – ISCI and the two Kurdish parties – are determined to elect a Sunni replacement from the remnants of the Tawafuq bloc in order to keep the system of ethno-sectarian quota-sharing afloat (this in turn gives them, as purported representatives of “Kurdish” and “Shiite” interests, even greater privileges), the “opposition” (featuring the Sadrists, the secular Iraqiyya, the breakaway factions of Tawafuq, sometimes Fadila, and occasionally independents) has insisted on an open contest where the speaker should be elected on the basis of merit only. This development echoes tendencies seen in early 2008 when the Daawa factions broke with its coalition partners over statements concerning Kirkuk and oil, and later faced off against the Kurds and ISCI over the provincial powers law. Thus in the question of state structure, the division lines between the nationalist opposition and the largely pro-federal government are blurred, because here Daawa sympathises with the view of the opposition, though without letting this bring about a change of its coalition partners. The contradictions of this position became clear in Wasit recently, where a quarrel between an Iraqiyya candidate and Daawa reportedly prompted Nuri al-Maliki to abruptly appoint a new police chief – a decision which ISCI members in the local council in turn seized on in order to make the case for their decentralisation agenda (though this time rather modestly so, with a reference to the Transitional Administrative Law, and on behalf of the existing governorate rather than in the name of any imagined federal entity). More than one Daawa politician have recently hinted at a possible plot aimed at unseating Maliki, but it is also possible that this latest move in parliament could be yet another attempt at playing the centralist/nationalist card in the context of the upcoming provincial elections.

PS: On 19 January, the Iraqi parliament decided to postpone the vote on a new parliamentary speaker until 4 February (i.e. after the 31 January provincial elections), thereby effectively depriving Iraqi voters of an opportunity to see for themselves which parties are truly sincere when they claim they are against ethno-sectarian quotas and in favour of a strategy that puts Iraq first.

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Basra, the Failed Gulf State, Part II: Wail Abd al-Latif Concedes Defeat

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 17 January 2009 17:42

Wail Abd al-Latif, the chief protagonist of the campaign to transform Basra into a standalone federal region, has told Iraqi radio that his project has failed. While Abd al-Latif did not know the exact numbers of signatures collected since the legally fixed month-long campaign period started on 15 December 2008 (and at a time when the Iraqi elections commission has not yet released any results and there were even rumours to the effect that the deadline had been extended with a few days), this declaration by the principal advocate of the scheme seems to be a certain indication that the goal of mustering 140,000 signatures in favour of the project – the precondition for a referendum – is unachievable at present… Full story here.

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The Sadrist Parliamentary Bloc Confirms Its Support of Two Electoral Lists

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 11 January 2009 23:59

The Sadrist bloc has today officially confirmed that it does indeed support the “Blamelessness and Reconstruction” list in the forthcoming local elections (list 376; as discussed earlier here), in addition to the “Independent Trend of the Noble Ones” (Tayyar al-ahrar al-mustaqill, list 284). In Maysan, for example, some Sadrist members of the current provincial council now appear on list 284; others are on list 376. List 284 is also running in some northern governorates where 376 does not take part, such as Nineveh and Diyala (but not Anbar and Salahaddin).

This development underlines the trend towards political participation among the Sadrist bloc in the Iraqi parliament, which was invigorated in 2008 as the party became a key player in the 22 July alliance that challenged the government by demanding early elections (the provincial powers law in February) and special treatment of Kirkuk (the elections law, finally adopted in September). This alliance continues to exercise strong influence in the Iraqi parliament, and Sadrists are currently vocal proponents for a drive to reject Ayad al-Samarrai as new parliamentary speaker after he was nominated by the pro-government Tawafuq alliance (which itself is in the process of being reduced to the Iraqi Islamic Party due to defections to 22 July). The 22 July parties, a cross-sectarian alliance of Islamist and secularist parties, challenge the establishment and their preference for a state model of ethno-religious quota-sharing (muhasasa).

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Baghdad, District of the Green Zone??

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 8 January 2009 23:59

The debate about Iraq’s state structure rarely fails to make perplexing twists and turns, and the latest discussion concerning the status of Baghdad as Iraq’s capital city is no exception. In a scheme reported by several Arabic news media, local politicians in the Baghdad governorate council have presented the vision of the Green Zone as the future federal capital of Iraq – on pattern of the special status that Washington, D.C. has in the US system of government, with the rest of the governorate presumably acquiring a “normal” status (and with small chunks of neighbouring city quarters being annexed).

One would perhaps have thought that this kind of scheme could have originated with ISCI, the only party among the Shiites that has spoken out in defence of sectarian models of federalism, because theoretically it might then become easier for any future Shiite federal region to eat into parts of Baghdad. ISCI members have distinguished themselves in the Iraqi federalism debate earlier also by highlighting the option of federalising Baghdad as a standalone unit (it is constitutionally barred from becoming part of any other region under the current system). And, indeed, ISCI’s provincial council head in Baghdad, Mu‘in al-Kazimi, has been among the foremost promoters of these new ideas.

More surprising, however, is it to find Daawa member Salah Abd al-Razzaq speaking positively about this kind of project. Only months ago, he was in the media spotlight as the Daawa decided to contest the forthcoming 31 January local elections on a separate list from ISCI, not least because of disagreement between the now more centralist Daawa and the strongly pro-federal ISCI. Back then, many “centralist” independents in the United Iraqi Alliance camp that are believed to be in regular touch with Sistani, such as Husayn al-Shahristani and Safa al-Din al-Safi, chose Maliki’s side rather than Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim’s. But now also Abd al-Razzaq from Maliki’s group has signalled interest in the “federal district” plan.

It is hard to see how the scheme fits with the 2005 constitution, where even in a general tendency of extreme concessions to the centrifugal forces in Iraq at least the concept of an undivided capital seems to survive. Baghdad “with its municipal borders” is the capital of the Republic of Iraq “and shall make up the governorate of Baghdad”. One can understand the dilemma of local councillors who feel that urban development may not receive the attention it requires when the governorate of Baghdad is also tasked with matters relating to the infrastructure of the federal government, but Baghdad has such a symbolic position as the nation’s capital that any tinkering with its status is likely to meet with considerable scepticism among the Iraqi public at large. An initial challenge would be to find a reasonable name for the new creation.

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Ahmadinejad Praises Maliki for the SOFA

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 4 January 2009 23:59

So maybe the prospect of a timetabled US withdrawal not involving political reform in Iraq was after all quite acceptable to Tehran? Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad certainly spun it that way after his meeting with Nuri al-Maliki in Tehran, describing the SOFA as a “pact of withdrawal”. Later, Maliki met with Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. This time, the Iraqi premier appears to have kept his tie on for the duration of the meeting (he was criticised for not having done so last time, in deference to Iranian post-1979 custom) but this symbolic assertion of Iraqi distinctiveness apart, the Iranian hosts generally seemed pleased about the turn of events in their neighbouring country.

Spot the difference: Nuri al-Maliki meeting with Ali Khamenei in January 2009 (above) and June 2008 (below)

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, UIA dynamics, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on Ahmadinejad Praises Maliki for the SOFA

Local Democracy, ISCI-style

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 2 January 2009 23:59

ISCI preacher Jalal al-Din al-Saghir on Friday proclaimed that there was a foreign conspiracy at work to “split the vote” in the forthcoming local elections in Iraq. The existence of small parties, in particular, was seen as offensive by Saghir, who encouraged smaller lists to withdraw from the elections as soon as possible to leave space for the bigger parties. But then again ISCI fought hard against these elections in the first place, and later on tried to resist the introduction of open lists and individual candidacies.

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