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.