Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Battle of the Coalitions Is Heating Up

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 14 September 2009 13:44

Fronts in the intra-Shiite competition over political pre-eminence in Iraq have hardened perceptibly over the past few weeks. Media supportive of the newly formed Iraqi National Alliance have been highlighting negotiations between Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Kurdish leaders about a possible future alliance (in other words, the ISCI–Kurdish axis in a new incarnation), whereas commentators close to Nuri al-Maliki have openly condemned these manoeuvres as a plot to exclude a second Maliki premiership.

Now the Buratha news agency has pulled out all the stops by openly threatening to destroy Maliki’s coalitions in the Shiite-dominated governorates south of Baghdad. After the local elections last January Maliki generally formed provincial councils with the support of all other political forces except ISCI. But now, ISCI supporters say, Shiite Islamists like the Sadrists and the Jaafari breakaway movement from the Daawa, are once more on their own side. If Maliki perseveres with his plans to run separately from the Shiite-dominated list – or so the argument goes – ISCI and its new allies will withdraw confidence from Maliki’s governors in all governorates except Baghdad, Basra and Karbala (in these places it is conceded that Maliki’s majority is unassailable.)

The Buratha news agency hasn’t got its math quite right though. Or rather, its commentators have forgotten that Maliki’s strategy last spring was two-pronged and featured not only an exclusion of ISCI to the advantage of Sadrists and Jaafari but also an attempt to reach out to secular forces such as the Iraqiyya list and local parties. In fact, by consolidating his alliances with these latter forces, Maliki should be able to fend off any challenge by ISCI in Wasit, Qadisiyya, Babel (each of which has three secularist representatives) and possibly even Muthanna (which has an unusual high proportion of local lists represented). Only Najaf, Dhi Qar and Maysan seem to be irretrievably lost for Maliki under the new scenario. It is often forgotten that Maliki’s “State of Law” coalition itself emerged relatively unscathed from the process that led to the formation of the new Iraqi National Alliance; some press reports erroneously claim that the Tanzim al-Iraq branch joined the alliance but so far it is only the Anizi breakaway faction of the Tanzim al-Iraq that has joined.

Even if the threat may be exaggerated, this new development can perhaps help jog Maliki’s mind as he goes about putting the final touches to his own coalition which is expected to be announced either shortly before or after the Eid al-Fitr holiday later this week: He needs broader alliances if he is to succeed. It is not correct, as some commentators continue to maintain, that the new Iraqi government needs a two-thirds majority behind it; this was a special feature of the 2005 constitution that was expressly limited to the first parliamentary cycle. However, Maliki still needs to come in first in the sense that he must obtain the largest number of representatives in order to get the job of nominating the next government. To achieve this, he must do better than the Kurds, among whom the probability of a unified ethnic identity vote remains strongest right now. So far there are signs that Abu Risha (of the Anbar awakening movement) is on track to join him, and last week the new party of Mahmud al-Mashhadani and Nadim al-Jabiri publicly said they would run with Maliki. One of Maliki’s news outlets also carried a report to the effect that Maliki and the minister of interior, Jawad al-Bulani, who heads the more secular Iraqi Constitutional Party, were once more on good terms and that Bulani would likely join Maliki’s alliance. But the recent threats concerning the provincial councils do suggest that Maliki would be a lot safer if he entered into formal cooperation with at least one major secular party, like Iraqiyya, Hiwar or both.

Meanwhile, there are rumours that Allawi still remains in dialogue with virtually everyone (including ISCI: such an alliance would be an insult to voters as the two parties disagree on almost every significant constitutional issue in Iraq). For his part, Muqtada al-Sadr has introduced a bit of confusion in the Iraqi National Alliance camp by issuing detailed instructions about what sort of candidates should be supported, including a requirement that they should not belong to a political party and not don clerical robes (although there should be “representatives” of the higher clergy). In the context of an open-list system (which is now expected to be adopted) this could prove especially interesting. Also, this is a noteworthy stance on the relationship between the clerical hawza and the legislative branch of government, where Sadr now marks a clearer distinction to the Iranian model than his new partners in ISCI have done so far. It should be remembered that both ISCI’s last leading cleric, Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim,  as well as Sadr’s own father, Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq, supported the concept of the rule of jurisprudent or wilayat al-faqih, but unlike Hakim (who never challenged Khamenei) Sadr emphasised that it should be based in Iraq. In typical fashion, as part of their dalliance with ISCI a couple of years ago, many Western diplomats took at face value the narrative that Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim held no executive office in deference to an “Iraqi” rejection of wilayat al-faqih; this interpretation is however flawed since Hakim was not recognised as a mujtahid or higher-ranking cleric (which is the crucial distinction in “clerical rule” as per the Khomeini model. In fact, Iraq saw several junior clerics rise to executive office during the period of the monarchy). However, several turbaned ISCI members of the lower-ranking clergy – including Hakim himself – had no reservations about accepting positions in the legislative branch of the Iraqi government (i.e. as members of the Iraqi parliament); it is on this issue there now seems to be a competing Sadrist interpretation of what the rules of the game should be.

20 Responses to “The Battle of the Coalitions Is Heating Up”

  1. Reidar,

    1- Could you please elaborate on the optimism regarding adopting the open list?

    2- What if the elections turned out to be fraudulent? To my mind Maliki will not have the chance of snowball in hell if there is widespread fraud. Any chance of him calling for direct UN supervision over the elections?



  2. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, my optimism regarding the open list system is based on, firstly, that the revised draft election law prepared by the government incorporates this change, and, secondly, that preachers affiliated with Ali al-Sistani since late July have expressed a preference for this option, which would make it difficult for ISCI (hitherto a proponent of the closed list) to maintain their opposition. Admittedly, as before, the Kirkuk issue could stand in the way of any revisions being adopted at all. If I remember correctly the Kurds also preferred the closed-list system in the past and use this system for their regional elections too, so they may have a double interest in blocking progress, i.e. in addition to their desire to avoid special arrangements for Kirkuk.

    As for fraudulence, I really don’t know. But in the last local elections, Maliki, as the incumbent, was actually portrayed as having the upper hand in terms of exercising influence away from the ballot boxes, confer the controversy of the majalis isnad etc. It certainly looks as if the internationally-sponsored (and partially internationally-staffed) complaints commission has a positive effect in Afghanistan as a kind of check on the national commission, but as far as I know it originated with legislation passed by the Afghan parliament. I somehow doubt that the current Iraqi parliament would support something similar. Perhaps this time there will be greater appetite in the international community for participating in a more general monitoring mission, but that will likely be alongside the existing Iraqi commission and its real impact may well be limited in the end.

  3. Salah said


    The fight still between same actors for the last six years, they done very little to the nation despite what their Sec.

    South Iraq still living in misery, Iraq in total have some changes in security matter but total living standards still beyond what any national (if we can said that)can diliver.

    Most Iraqi knew the toll of currption high , any Iraqi can tell you if he needs to do any officail document or goes to goverematal office for dailly life things he needs to pay bribs to officails to get his job done.

    In this invroment how convicing that the next elections will be fair and not dominated by fruad?

    If the “goverement” and the officials who living in greenzone see all this and can not changed for the last 5 years, looks as they benifits form this status of courrption as it suite them.

    As for Afghanistan, BBC run undercover investigation of possible fraud before recent election as there are rummer of voting tickets for sale, this was 2-3 weeks ago, their undercover man managed to approach those voting tickets salers with 5000 Voting tickets/ $150, they offer him 50,000 voting tickets with good price!!..

    This is in Afghanistan what about Iraq with Zewiyah bank saga linked to Adil Abd al-Mahdi and The Blanket that last election distributed for the poor in south Iraq for voting for the ISCI party, most importantly Sistani fatwa will be the joker ticket who the to vote for as before.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, if in the end no Sistani fatwa on a party preference materialises, might you then be willing to change some of your assumptions about the current state of Iraqi politics?

  5. Salah said

    Thank you for your reply.

    I am open for any change that’s brings Iraq forward, for better life and real democracy, but I have my internal fear inside.

  6. Salah said

    “Sistani constantly dodges in and out of politics (somewhat reluctantly) because he feels forced to act in the best interest of Iraq (e.g calls for elections). Sistani absolutely loathes politics, in London, when he asked me what I plan on studying I said “Politics”, he shock his head in dismay and said “Politics is no good, politics killed your father and it is going to kill you”.

    Hayder Al-Khoei

  7. Alexno said

    I think a big offensive by Ammar al-Hakim was to be expected, as the new leader of ISCI. The question is: how successful has he been?. Maliki was pretty successful in the local elections. Has all his support suddenly disappeared?

    I don’t find it too easy to write off Maliki, even if he ends by rigging the election (easy to do as incumbent).

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Alex, my take is that whichever way you choose to look at it, Maliki’s performance in the cities of Baghdad and Basra last January, 37% of the vote or so in each place, was very impressive. Some American critics like to emphasize the fact that overall participation was low. But that argument only makes the performance of Maliki’s detractors, many of whom are still adored by Washington policy-makers, even less glorious.

  9. Salah said

    Reidar, what’s your thoughts about these new development.

    1 – The Iraqi Khalil Al-Bunia entrepreneur from well known Iraq family in trades created new party (Al-Hyatt) “Life” promising for better and new direction for Iraq and Iraqi.

    2- The creation of Iraq consult for national front (if I am right to translate) headed by Fawaz al-Jarba, this includes many different ethnics and religious minorities.

  10. Thaqalain said

    Reid don’t forget its Americans influence which will bring any change on the surface. Go and see what’s happening inside World’s Biggest Embassy on the planet. Who is giving the dictation to whom? Dedicate some moments inside Liberated SAFE HAVEN and see how safe, secure is IRAQ now. How and why the rival parties are forced to join overnight new alliances.

    Think about frequent un-announced visits of Biden and Al-Maliki’s visit to Basra , recently. By the end of day , its Americans who are going to decide the fate of Iraq’s client regime in a drum-beated so-called elections.

  11. Salah said

    What hilarious comment?

    “Iranian blood in their veins”

    “ If you do DNA of Iraqi MPs, 3/4th of them you will find with Iranian origin

    “Every 3rd Iraqi has blood relations either in Iran or Bahrain,”

    “Ammar Al Hakim to remove his Ammamah.”

    “that’s why the key to IRAQ is in the hands of IRANIAN SUPERMAN THE GREAT GRAND AYATOLLAH ALI AL SISTANI”

    All above about US & “Iraq’s client regime” = Iraqis client regime for Iran

    “This plane has a crew of six persons who are Iranians and hold Iranian passports. This prompted American officials to return them to the Airplane and deny them permission to stay at one of the hotels considered for the Iraqi delegation.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, thanks for the links, I thought Bunya’s aspirations to become Iraq’s Rafiq Hariri were interesting, and it is good that new faces are considering participating in the next elections. With regard to Fawaz al-Jarba, if I remember correctly he was one of the few Sunni tribal leaders to participate in the United Iraqi Alliance in the first elections in 2005. He apparently became disillusioned, because he left the UIA ahead of the second elections in December the same year. What I found particularly interesting in the report is the fact that he is negotiating with Maliki’s list. He appears to be precisely the sort of person Maliki needs to have on board.

  13. Thaqalain said

    Salah anything from PMOI is hard to believe, they haven’t quoted the main mother arabic source. There is not any room for Al-Maliki in next setup and no alliance want to see him in their alliance as eventually it will lead to defeat due to hate against the client regime.

    Jaafri will be most probably next premier and US need to pay for confrontation during his first tenure and later for pushing Ammar al Hakim to remove his Ammah.

    Hayder Al Khoei likes to continue rule of Al-Maliki, his illusion is Bush was Iraq’s liberator not an aggressor. He need another century to learn Iraqi Politics.

    Moqtada Al Sadr and Muntadher Al-Zaidi will be GOD fathers of new Iraq and Jesus need to pray behind Imam Al Mahdi.

    One must think Why Imam Ali condemned people of Iraq, read here:

    In condemnation of the people of Iraq

    Now then, O ‘ people[1] of Iraq! You are like the pregnant woman who, on completion of the period of pregnancy delivers a dead child and her husband is also dead and her period of widowhood is long while only remote relation inherits her. By Allah, I did not come to you of my own accord. I came to you by force of circumstances. I have come to know that you say `Ali speaks lie. May Allah fight you! Against whom do I speak lie? Whether against Allah? But I am the first to have believed in him. Whether against His Prophet? But I am the first who testified to him. Certainly not. By Allah it was a way of expression which you failed to appreciate, and you were not capable of it. Woe to you. I am giving out these measures of nice expression free of any cost. I wish there were vessels good enough to hold them.

    Certainly, you will understand it after some time. (Qur’an, 38:88)

    Footnotes by translator:

    [1].When after Arbitration the Iraqis displayed lethargy and heartlessness in retaliating the continuous attacks of Mu`awiyah, Amir al-mu’minin delivered this sermon abusing and admonishing them. Herein he has referred to their being deceived at Siffin and has likened them to a woman who has five qualities:

    i) Firstly, she is pregnant. This implies that these people had full capability to fight, and were not like a barren woman from whom nothing is expected

    ii) Secondly, she has completed the period of pregnancy. That is they had passed over all difficult stages and had approached near the final goal of victory.

    iii) Thirdly, she wilfully miscarries her child. That is after coming close to victory they came down to settlement and instead of achieving the coveted goal faced disappointment.

    iv) Fourthly, her period of widowhood is long. That is they fell in such a state as though they had no protector or patron and they were roaming about without any ruler.

    v) Fifthly, her successors would be distant persons. That is the people of Syria who had no relationship with them would occupy their properties.


    Now if you see what’s happening in Iraq is exactly as was stated in above specified sermon#71. Al-Maliki Talbani has continued signing accords, MOUs, OIL biddings, back door deals against the wishes of millions of Iraqis. Sooner or later they all need to be punished in Sadr City Speedy Courts.

  14. Hussain said

    Hi Reidar,

    Great blog. Thank you so much for sharing your views and educating middle easterns especially those who see everything in their sectarian eyes.

    I have one question please, how do see the coming election, which party has the best chances? I think the Maliki is already lost this election? unless he chooses to join the Iraqi National Alliance again.

    That’s all for now

    Thank you

  15. Salah said

    I am also though so about Bunya’s aspirations. I hope he can do what in his mind specially his family have long standing wealth of respect from all Iraqi as they do not interfered in any way in Iraqi politics even their workers have long joy working with them and loyalty. As far as I remember, hearing few stories during late 80 has and even during 13 years of sanction.

    Let hope so hopefully he will attract same sort of personalities around him, but still big problem is the out of law militia/ forces or terrorists who do assassinations or killing around Iraq.

    Maliki his close tie, relaying on Iran, especially in his recent visited met with Ali Khamenei stripped his tie. That not help at all.
    The link I posted above about Maliki using Iranian crew and Iranian plane in his trips which brought him problem when he tried to visited Arab countries is just cannot help him to attracted national Iraqi around him.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Hussain, I think many analysts exaggerate Maliki’s weakness right now (just like many exaggerated his strength right after the local elections). I think he still has the potential to create a credible, Iraqi nationalist alternative. Just consider the discussion we have got here: Thaqalain thinks Maliki is an American stooge and Salah thinks Maliki is a tool of the Iranians. Logically speaking, at least one of them is wrong. Might perhaps both of them be wrong? Look at the people who are cooperating with Maliki in his new coalition, figures like Mahmud al-Mashhadani and Nadim al-Jabiri. They are neither American puppets nor Iranian vassals. At the very least, I think we should give Maliki the benefit of the doubt and wait and see what his coalition will look like before passing any judgement. In typical fashion, the mainstream media has adopted the absolutely incredulous narrative that Maliki was somehow “dumped” by the other Shiites. The truth is they tried extremely hard to get him on board, probably thinking he could still be a major vote-winner.

  17. Thaqalain said

    Except for few city sectors, the bulk of Iraqis will be asked to vote on grounds of their tribal affiliations irrespective of their sect. Americans political analyst and US Commanders still busy in dictating Al-Maliki how to confront rising power of ambitious Ammar, re-energized Moqtada, recently released Montadher.
    The trend in Iraq is tribal land lords, arm lords, militia lords always sit with whom they see the power, until and unless Americans stop buying selling horses, stop horse and cattle show in the fortified green zone, the place of palaces of Mangols, Abbasi and Saddami regimes, nothing is going to change except some cosmetic changes to be done to fool Iraqis.
    We should classify Iranian stooges as anti or pro Khamenie from now on. At the moment Iranians plateau still receiving after shocks of US/UK geared Sabz Tsunami in Tehran. Tehran is going to be last Armageddon for Americans , who ever win Tehran will rule over Burning Baghdad Baquaba Basra.

  18. Salah said

    IRAQI NATIONALISM is on the rise. And it is this force that the prime minister hopes to unleash if providing basic services is not enough to secure reelection. As always, nationalism is a double-edged sword. It has started to heal the rifts between Sunni and Shia. And it has been the most important factor in limiting Iranian influence. The more Iraqis feel confident in themselves, the more they push back on the mostly despised Persian interlopers. But the forces of nationalism are also threatening to Iraq’s minorities and the cohesion of the state, no more so than when it comes to the Kurdish problem.

    The militia parties who ruled Iraq from 2003 to 2007 are very much alive and well. They remain the major political parties today, albeit mostly without their militias. They too scheme, plot and maneuver constantly. They still bribe and extort. They still assassinate and kidnap. They still steal and vandalize. They can’t do it as openly or as much as they once did, and they often have to be much more subtle, but they find ways. Many pine for the “good old days” when their militias ruled the streets, the Iraqi security forces were their Wal-Mart, Iraq’s oil fields were their ATMs and the Americans were off on wild-goose chases hunting “terrorists” around the wastelands of Anbar while they held sway over the Iraqi people. And they especially do whatever they can to prevent the emergence of new political parties—parties that are more secular, more democratic, more representative, less corrupt and less violent. If this modus operandi prevails and America is forced out, the glimmers of democracy will fade and Iraq will be lost again.

    Kenneth M. Pollack, a contributing editor to The National Interest, is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

  19. Reidar,
    Your point is well taken regarding the open list legislation. An open list may also make it a little more difficult to cheat because of the wider diversity of choices, but members of parliament Waiel Abdullateef and Safia Al Suhail disagree when they said that the open list legislation is meaningless against the influence of (big) parties. If the Kurds chose to oppose the amendment then they risk taking a position opposed by almost all Iraqi parties, but according to recent declarations it seems they will not.
    As for fraudulence, I think the situation is so volatile which makes it that much more interesting; Maliki is the strong incumbent, traditionally the most likely to benefit from fraud, but the new UIA (INA?) probably has better means and financing. In my mind this situation may encourage Maliki to ask for UN supervision.
    The latest cynical development: Ayad Allawi’s faction (INA) is rumored to be joining the new UIA, now it is impossible to tell the two INA’s apart!

  20. Salah said

    Salah thinks Maliki is a tool of the Iranians. Logically speaking, at least one of them is wrong. Might perhaps both of them be wrong?

    With all due respects of your views, I think you get here the comparison wrong.

    Salah, he is an Iraqi, who loves his country, who serviced his country, when I speaks I speaks and reflects from the inside of normal Iraqis who loving Iraq for better bright future. Without tribal or sectarian basis or believes in this matter.

    I have no hate for Iran or Iranians at all, but what I hate some who interferes inside Iraq politics trying to impose Iranians thinking and ideology on the Iraqi as a nation and as society. I think you will agree with me as you don’t like your neighbouring countries interfere with your loving country and your society.

    Compare my views with Thaqalain its irrelevant here, he is most probably Iranian with heavy Persian personality withholding his personality showing as if Iraq is part of Iran and should be controlled for different reasons by Iran.

    I think your statement fare to be considering correct comparison about Iraqi government between “real” Iraqis views, not between Iraqi and Iranian view in this matter.

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